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Should I Wear a Mouthguard When Playing Sports?By Dr. Jack Sahlaney, D.M.D., M.D.S.
How would you feel if you lost one or two of your front teeth? You wouldn’t want to smile much or face your friends. It would be difficult to pronounce certain words as well as biting into an apple or a piece of pizza. It’s easy to take smiling, talking, and eating for granted until they are suddenly disrupted or inhibited. I would like to review how a mouthguard or mouth protector is an important piece of athletic gear that can protect your teeth and smile.
Sports are a well known cause of dental and oral injuries. The literature shows baseball, basketball, and soccer are the sports most prone to dental and oral injuries, while football and hockey have a lesser incidence.1 Football and hockey show a lesser incidence because it is mandatory to wear a mouthguard while playing these sports.
You do not have to be on the football field or hockey rink to benefit from a mouthguard. New findings in sports dentistry show that non-contact sports, such as gymnastics and skating can benefit by the use of mouthguards. Many experts recommend children and adults wear a mouthguard during recreational activities (biking and skiing) that may pose a risk of injury to the teeth and/or mouth.1 Mouthguards should be recommended to individuals who have braces and participate in sports or in recreational activities.
A mouthguard can prevent many types of dental (tooth) and mouth injuries. These injuries can range from chipped teeth, front teeth being knocked out, and trauma to the lips and tongue. Treating these dental and mouth injuries involves bonding chipped teeth, placing of bridges or implants for missing teeth, and stitches for lacerations to the lips. Preventing these injuries can avoid excess expense and stress.
Now that we have shown that mouthguards are valuable in preventing unwanted dental and mouth injuries, one might ask “How do I chose a mouthguard?” A mouthguard should cover and protect the upper teeth. In some cases, a mouthguard will cover and protect the upper and lower teeth. These types of mouthguards are seen more in individuals with braces. Your orthodontist would usually provide this mouthguard. A mouthguard should be resilient, durable, comfortable, should not restrict breathing, and most importantly, must be worn.
There are three types of mouthguards: the ready-made or stock mouthguard; the mouth-formed or boil and bite mouthguard; and the custom-made mouthguard. All these mouthguards protect the teeth and mouth. They vary on comfort and cost.
The ready-made or stock mouthguard is a mouthguard that takes the least amount of time and money to be used. It usually comes in two sizes, small or large. It does not require boiling water. It is an immediate mouthguard. The ready-made mouthguard may be the least comfortable in fit and may not be the best conforming to the teeth and mouth due to lack of size variability. The ready-made mouthguard can be purchased at sporting goods stores, local pharmacies, and dental offices.
The mouth-formed or boil and bite mouthguard takes a little more time and care when making. The mouth-formed mouthguard requires boiling water and caution must be taken not to burn the lips, gums, and tongue when fabricating. The mouth-formed mouthguard is more comfortable and better conforming to the teeth and mouth than the stock mouthguard. The mouth-formed mouthguard can be purchased at a local sporting goods stores, pharmacies, and dental offices.
The custom-made mouthguard is made by your dentist and is specific for your teeth and mouth. Your dentist takes an impression of your upper jaw and fabricates the mouthguard. This type of mouthguard is the most comfortable and conforming, but the most expensive of the three types of mouthguards.
In conclusion, mouthguards are valuable in preventing dental and mouth injuries. The stock, mouth-formed, and custom mouthguards are all effective. They should be comfortable and should not restrict breathing. However, the most important take home lesson regarding the use of mouthguards is that they must be worn in order to prevent unnecessary, and many times costly, injuries.
1. McNutt, T., Shannon, S.W., Wright, J.T., and Feinstein R.A..: Oral trauma in adolescent athletes: a study of mouth protectors. Pediatric Dentistry. 11:209-13, 1989.