What is a mouth guard?
Mouth guards are dental appliances that cover your teeth. Dentists recommend them for a number of reasons, and there are many different types. Children and adults alike can benefit from mouth guards.
Most mouth guards fit over your upper teeth. In some instances, your dentist may recommend a mouth guard for your lower teeth, as well.
What does a mouth guard do?
Dentists recommend mouth guards for many different reasons. You might need one if you:
- Grind or clench your teeth (bruxism).
- Play contact sports such as football, basketball, hockey, soccer or boxing.
- Participate in activities with a high fall risk, such as gymnastics, biking or ice skating.
- Have obstructive sleep apnea.
- Have TMJ disorder.
Are there different types of mouth guards?
There are three main types of mouth guards. We can categorize them according to purpose:
- Mouth guards for sports. These protect your teeth from sports-related injuries. If you play sports like boxing, wrestling, soccer, basketball, hockey or football, mouth guards can greatly reduce your risk for chipped and avulsed (knocked out) teeth.
- Mouth guards for grinding teeth. These appliances help protect your teeth from the effects of grinding and clenching. They may also reduce the effects of TMJ disorders. You can wear this type of mouth guard any time, night or day. But because most people grind or clench their teeth during sleep, it’s common to wear them at night. (Some people refer to these appliances as night guards.)
- Snoring and sleep apnea mouth guards. People with chronic snoring or obstructive sleep apnea may benefit from a custom mouth guard. This type of appliance shifts and repositions your jaw to open your airway during sleep.
In addition, mouth guards may be store-bought or custom-made:
- Store-bought: There are two main types of store-bought mouth guards. Stock (which you wear as-is, right out of the box) and boil-and-bite (which you can slightly customize at home). Store-bought guards are cheaper, but they’re not as effective as custom-made mouth guards for protection against teeth grinding or sports-related injuries. They’re also not appropriate for treating sleep apnea.
- Custom-made: A dentist creates this type of mouth guard to fit your exact dental anatomy. Because they’re designed to fit your teeth, they tend to be more comfortable than store-bought mouth guards. Custom-made mouth guards provide effective protection against bruxism and sports-related trauma. They’re also a common first line of defense in sleep apnea treatment. You can wear them with or without a CPAP machine. (Custom-made mouth guards are usually more costly, but they last longer compared to store-bought guards.)
What happens if I need a custom mouth guard?
If you need a custom mouth guard, a dentist will take dental impressions. (They’ll use dental putty or a digital handheld wand for this step.) Next, they’ll send your impressions to a dental lab, where a technician will fabricate a mouth guard that fits the anatomy of your teeth. In some cases, this process can take up to two weeks.
How often should you wear a mouth guard?
It depends on why you need a mouth guard. If you need one to protect your teeth during contact sports, then you should wear it during all practices and games. However, if you need a mouth guard to treat teeth grinding, snoring or sleep apnea, you’ll likely need to wear it every night while you sleep. Ask your healthcare provider if you’re unsure about how often you should wear your mouth guard.
Risks / Benefits
What are the advantages of wearing a mouth guard?
Wearing a mouth guard during contact sports and athletic activities can help you avoid:
- Chipped teeth.
- Knocked-out teeth.
- Damage to your tooth pulp.
- Soft-tissue injury to your gums, lips and inner cheeks.
Wearing a mouth guard while you sleep can help reduce your risk for:
- Wear and tear from clenching or grinding your teeth.
- Jaw pain, headaches, facial pain and other symptoms of TMJ disorder.
- Sleep apnea and related complications, including high blood pressure and daytime fatigue.
Are there side effects of wearing a mouth guard?
It can take some time to get used to your mouth guard. If you purchase one that doesn’t fit quite right, it can cause soreness in your teeth, gums or jaw.
Generally, custom-made mouth guards are more comfortable than store-bought ones. No matter what type of mouth guard you have, your dentist can check it and make any necessary adjustments.
Recovery and Outlook
How long do mouth guards last?
Depending on how frequently you wear your appliance, a custom-made mouth guard can last several years with proper care. However, some people may find they need a mouth guard replaced more often than that. Be sure to bring your mouth guard with you to dental checkups so your dentist can inspect it for cracks or other signs of wear.
Store-bought mouth guards aren’t as durable. You may need to replace them a few times a year. Children and teens may need to replace mouth guards more often as their teeth and mouth grow.
How do I care for a mouth guard?
Mouth guards pick up bacteria from your mouth. Be sure to clean your teeth thoroughly before putting a mouth guard in. Here are some tips for how to clean your mouth guard:
- Don’t expose your mouth guard to extreme heat, such as direct sunlight or hot water. Heat can cause it to warp and change shape.
- Keep your mouth guard in a sturdy, vented plastic case when not in use or when traveling to sports and activities.
- Rinse your mouth guard in cool water and use a brush and soapy water to clean it after each use. Let it air dry.
- Store your mouth guard out of reach of dogs and other pets.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I call my healthcare provider?
If you play contact sports, ask your dentist for mouth guard recommendations. You should also reach out to your healthcare provider if you have:
Can I wear a mouth guard if I have braces or dental implants?
Yes. In addition to protecting your teeth, a mouth guard can protect braces, dental implants and other dental restorations (like crowns and bridges) from damage. Custom-fitted mouth guards work best. They fit the unique shape of braces or implants.
Does insurance cover the cost of mouth guards?
Some dental health insurers cover part or all of the cost for custom-fitted mouth guards. Health insurance policies vary, so you should check with your provider. You can also see if your dental office has a payment plan. You can use health savings account funds to pay for custom-fitted and store-bought mouth guards.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Mouth guards protect your teeth from injury when you play sports, bike or do other on-the-move activities. You can buy mouth guards at stores or get a custom-fitted mouth guard from a dentist. Your dentist may recommend wearing a mouth guard while you sleep to stop you from grinding your teeth or improve sleep apnea symptoms. There are different types of mouth guards. Your dentist can suggest the best one for you.
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