The mouth guard, also termed a mouth protector, is an appliance placed inside the mouth, usually only covering the upper teeth, to reduce the incidence of injury to teeth and to the gums. While there are mouth guards for preventing grinding and other chewing discrepancies, this information focuses on those designed to limit oral sports injuries. Mouth guards are commonly worn by those participating in contact sports, such as wrestling, boxing, basketball, hockey, football, and soccer. According to the American Dental Association, an athlete is 60 times more likely to experience damage to teeth when not wearing a mouth guard. A mouth guard is even beneficial to those in non-contact sports, such as bicycling, skating, and gymnastics where falls are not uncommon.
There are essentially three types of mouth guards:
1. Stock Mouth Guard is an off the shelf, prefabricated oral appliance available in sporting goods stores. It comes ready-to-wear in a limited number of sizes, and is the least costly. A stock mouth guard cannot be adjusted to meet the needs of a specific user, may fit poorly, and is bulky.
Worn without modification, a stock mouth guard is held in place by clenching the teeth together, which can make it difficult to breathe and interferes with speaking. A stock mouth guard is not recommended by dentists.
2. Boil-and-Bite Mouth Guard is readily available in sporting goods stores and can offer a better fit than the stock mouth guard. The boil-and-bite mouth guard is made of a thermoplastic material which, after softening in hot water, is inserted into the mouth and shaped around the upper teeth by applying biting, tongue and finger pressure.
3. Custom-Fitted Mouth Guard is individually designed to fit the mouth of the individual. After the dentist prepares an impression of the teeth, a mouth guard is molded over the model, forming a custom made mouth guard that is unique to the person’s mouth. A custom-fitted mouth guard is comfortable, provides maximum protection, and does not interfere with breathing or speaking. The dentist can match the appropriateness of the mouth guard to the specific sport played and the patient’s history of dental injury. A custom-fitted mouth guard can even be worn with braces.
Proven Benefits of Custom-Fitted Mouth Guard
Mouth guards limit the risk of injuries to the lips, tongue, and teeth, helping to avoid broken or chipped teeth, nerve damage to a tooth, or loss of a tooth. A study in the May/June 2014 issue of General Dentistry (the clinical journal of the Academy of General Dentistry) compared traumatic brain injuries/concussions in two groups of high school football players. One group wore over the counter mouth guards and the other group wore custom-fitted mouth guards. A total of 412 football players were followed; all wore the same style of football helmet. Football players wearing over-the-counter mouth guards were more than twice as likely to suffer mild traumatic brain injuries/concussions than those wearing custom-fitted mouth guards. It was hypothesized that the thickness of the mouth guard was a factor in limiting brain injury, as custom-fitted mouth guards were thicker (3.5 mm) than the over-the-counter variety of mouth guard (1.65 mm).