A mouthguard (mouth protector) is a flexible custom-fitted device worn over teeth during athletic and recreational activities to protect them from damage. A good-fitting mouth guard may be especially important if you wear braces, have fixed anterior bridgework, or just want to protect your teeth/smile from potential trauma.
Mouthguards can buffer damage to the teeth, the brackets, and/or other fixed appliances from blows and physical contact. Mouthguards can also act as a barrier between teeth/braces and the cheeks, between the lips and tongue, thereby limiting the risk of soft tissue damage.
The ideal mouthguard also:
- Allows speaking and does not limit breathing.
- Stays firmly in place during action.
- Provides a high degree of comfort and fit.
- Is durable and easy to clean.
- Is resilient, tear-resistant, odorless, and tasteless.
Generally, a mouthguard only covers the upper teeth. However, dentists may suggest that athletes with a protruding jaw or those who wear braces or other dental appliances (such as retainers, bridgework or have implant-supported dentures) on their lower jaw wear a mouth guard on their lower teeth.
Who Should Wear a Mouth Guard?
Currently, the U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association requires the use of mouthguards only for ice hockey, lacrosse, field hockey and football. However, the American Dental Association recommends the use of a mouth guard for 29 sports/exercise activities. These include the four activities already mentioned, plus acrobatics, basketball, boxing, discus throwing, gymnastics, handball, martial arts, racquetball, rugby, shot putting, skateboarding, skiing, skydiving, soccer, squash, surfing, volleyball, water polo, weightlifting and wrestling. Essentially, whenever there’s a chance of contact with other players or hard surfaces, wearing a mouth guard makes sense.
For professional advice about how to protect your teeth during athletic activities, talk to your dentist or orthodontist about selecting a mouthguard that will provide the best protection for your particular needs.
Wearing a mouthguard is an important precaution for athletes of all ages and abilities, helping to protect against chipped or broken teeth, root and bone damage, and tooth loss. Mouth guards also safeguard against serious injuries such as jaw fracture, cerebral hemorrhage, concussions, and neck injuries by helping to avoid situations where the lower jaw jams into the upper jaw. By keeping soft tissue in the oral cavity away from the teeth, mouth guards help prevent cutting and bruising of the lips, tongue and cheeks, especially for athletes who wear orthodontic appliances.
Why People Don’t Wear Mouth Guards
Since it is not mandatory for athletes – amateur or professional – to wear mouthguards, many do not because of fit, comfort, image (the notion that it’s not “cool” to wear mouthguards) and complaints of impaired speaking. Not realizing the real safety value of mouth guards, some coaches do not reinforce the advantages of wearing them to their athletes, and neither do some parents, who are sometimes not fully aware of the level of contact and potential for serious dental injuries involved in their children’s sports.
Gender bias may also play a role, since there are people who mistakenly think that female athletes are less aggressive, less at-risk of injury and, therefore, less likely to need a mouth guard. Although mouth guards come in various price ranges, cost may be another consideration limiting their use, especially for custom-fitted mouthguards. The “hassle” factor – remembering to wear them, properly caring for them and dealing with the inconvenience of impaired breathing or speech – also contributes to non-use.