It’s easy to think that you’ll never get hit with a rogue ball while playing sports — it hasn’t happened yet, right? Although a mouthguard might seem annoying or unnecessary to wear, trust us when we say that sports injuries to the mouth are some of the most common problems a dentist sees, and the vast majority of them could have been prevented by the use of a mouthguard. Not convinced? We’ve got everything you need to know about this vital piece of equipment below — including how to never have an uncomfortable mouthguard again.
The American Dental Association estimates that 10-20% of all sports injuries occur to the mouth or face, most commonly due to ball strikes but can also happen due to human error (elbows to the mouth, falling, etc). The most common injuries include chipped or broken teeth, broken or fractured jawbones, avulsed (knocked out) teeth, and teeth that have come loose in their sockets and have been mispositioned (luxation). Mouthguards can prevent most if not all of these injuries, making it important piece of equipment to wear for people who play sports, regardless of their age.
Not sure if you really need one for your sport? Guess again! The ADA recommends a mouthguard is worn during acrobatics, basketball, boxing, field hockey, football, gymnastics, handball, ice hockey, lacrosse, martial arts, racquetball, roller hockey, rugby, shot putting, skateboarding, skiing, skydiving, soccer, squash, surfing, volleyball, water polo, weightlifting, and wrestling. It is also strongly encouraged that baseball and softball infielders wear a mouthguard as well.
It seems as though a simple piece of plastic shouldn’t do much in the way of protection, but it actually provides an important cushion for your teeth, gums, and jaw, which is what ultimately protects against breaks, fractures, or avulsions due to hard blows to the face. It also protects you from biting your lips, tongue and cheek during a strike, which can otherwise cause deep cuts in the mouth that could need stitches to repair. Finally, a mouthguard is essential if you have braces, as a strike can damage brackets and cause them to cut into your lips. Still don’t think a mouthguard is essential? Consider the reality of the last scenario of getting hit in the face with a ball while wearing braces but no mouthguard. Not only will the braces be damaged and need to be fixed, you also may need stitches in your lip from any cuts your braces may have caused, and you could have chipped or broken teeth on top of all that. Not only are these costly repairs, but they’re also painful injuries. Seems more than worth it to wear a mouthguard now, right?
One of the most common complaints we hear is that mouthguards are just too bulky and uncomfortable to wear, sometimes even getting in the way of breathing. This is certainly true of the generic stock mouthguards you’ll find in athletic stores. Because they’re made to fit a wider range of people, chances are they actually don’t fit right for most. However, they’re not a bad option if you only play sports every now and then because they’re cheap and readily available.
The next step up from a stock mouthguard is the “boil and bite” variety. These are also readily available in most athletic stores, but they’re more customizable. Although you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions, the general directions involve you warming the mouthguard in hot water to soften the plastic, then inserting it into your mouth. Then, you will bite down and use your fingers to shape the guard to the contour of your teeth and gums. Many people find these mouthguards to be more comfortable than the stock kind, but since the blanks are still made to fit a wide range of people, some still find them to be an awkward fit. Plus, not all stock and “boil and bite” mouthguards have the ADA seal of approval and therefore many not actually comply with national safety standards.
If you play sports regularly or if you have found the above two mouthguards uncomfortable, you can have a custom mouthguard made by your dentist. Although this is the most expensive kind you can buy, it will alleviate all fit issues because it will be made just for you, and it will be far stronger and more durable than any other guard on the market.
No matter what kind of mouthguard you have, you’ll have to clean it regularly to prevent degradation and keep it sanitary. Remember, even the cleanest mouth harbors all kinds of bacteria, and you definitely don’t want to be adding a dirty mouthguard into the mix! First, give the mouthguard a quick rinse with some water before and after you use it. Then, when you’re home, give it a good scrub with a toothbrush and some toothpaste, or some cool, soapy water. Finally, allow the mouthguard to dry thoroughly before you store it away — otherwise, it’ll likely grow all sorts of bacteria. Just remember to keep it away from hot water and other heat sources (including the sun!), which can damage the materials the mouthguard is made from. You’ll also need to keep your mouthguard in a sturdy protective case to make sure it doesn’t get broken or bent out of shape in your equipment bag.
Sports injuries happen to even the best of players, and you simply never know when they’re going to occur. As you’ve seen above, there are many ways to find a mouthguard that will fit your face and your wallet, so there’s simply no excuse not to wear one. Always keep your mouthguard on hand while playing sports and save yourself the physical (and financial!) pain that comes with an oral or facial sports injury. Got a question about how to find the right mouthguard for you? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll help guide you!