What is a mouthguard?

Mouthguards are dental devices that cover your teeth. A mouthguard protects your teeth, tongue, gums and cheeks from trauma caused by teeth grinding or sports injuries.

Who might need a mouthguard?

Children or adults might need a mouthguard. Your healthcare provider may recommend a mouthguard if you or your child:

  • Grinds teeth (bruxism).
  • Plays a contact sport like basketball, football, lacrosse, hockey or soccer that increases the risk of a hit to the face.
  • Takes part in noncontact sports or activities with a high fall risk, like ice skating, gymnastics or biking.

What are the types of mouthguards?

There are two main categories of mouthguards: those that are made to protect teeth from trauma from sports or other athletic activities and guards that are made for patients with bruxism or teeth grinding. These types of appliances serve different purposes and will look and feel different. There are also different ways patients get mouthguard.

The types of mouthguards include:

  • Custom-fitted: Your dentist uses a mold (impression) of your teeth to custom-make a mouthguard that comfortably fits your teeth and mouth. Custom-fitted mouth protectors cost more, but they provide the best fit and protection. A custom mouthguard will be made specifically for your needs, whether it be for protection from trauma during athletic competition or for use at night if you grind your teeth. A custom guard fitted by your dentist is the highest quality and does the best job at protecting your teeth and mouth.
  • Boil-and-bite: These mouth protectors are a thermoplastic material that you can shape at home to fit your teeth. You soften the mouthguard by placing it in hot (not boiling) water. You then put the softened mouthguard into your mouth and use your fingers to press it onto the molars and front teeth. When the mouthguard feels like it’s in the right position, you bite down for about 20 seconds. Then you remove the device and run it under cool water. You can repeat these steps to reshape the mouthguard for the best fit.
  • Other adjustable over-the-counter mouthguards: Adjustable night guards often include sliding pieces that rest between your teeth while you sleep.
  • Stock: These one-size-fits-all mouthguards come preformed and ready to wear. Because they aren’t made specifically for your teeth, they rarely fit well. Their bulkiness and poor fit can make breathing difficult. Stock mouthguards offer the least protection of all mouthguard types.

Where can I buy a mouthguard?

Custom-fitted mouthguards are only available through a dental professional. You can buy stock or boil-and-bite mouthguards online or at drugstores and sporting goods stores.

Are there upper and lower mouthguards?

Most mouthguards for sports fit the upper teeth. These teeth stick out more than bottom teeth, putting them at risk for impact. If you have braces, your dental provider may recommend a lower mouthguard, too.

What are the benefits of wearing a mouthguard?

Repairing or replacing missing teeth can be costly and painful. Wearing a mouthguard during athletic activities can help you avoid:

  • Chipped or lost teeth.
  • Nerve damage to a tooth.
  • Soft-tissue damage to lips, gums, tongue and inside cheeks.

How do I care for a mouthguard?

Mouthguards pick up bacteria from your mouth. Be sure to clean the teeth very well before putting a mouthguard in. To clean your mouthguard:

  • Don’t expose the mouthguard to extreme heat, such as direct sunlight or hot water. Heat can cause it to warp and change shape.
  • Keep the mouthguard in a sturdy, vented plastic case when not in use or when traveling to sports and activities.
  • Rinse your mouthguard in cool water and use a brush and soapy water to clean it after each use. Let it air dry.
  • Store the mouthguard out of reach of dogs and other pets.

How long do mouthguards last?

Depending on how frequently you use your mouthguard and how much “wear and tear” it takes, a custom-fitted mouthguards can last several years with proper care. However, some people may find they need a mouthguard replaced more often than that. You should bring the mouthguard to your dental checkups so your dentist can inspect it for cracks or other signs of wear.

Over-the-counter mouthguards aren’t as durable. You may need to replace them every few months. Children and teens may need to replace mouthguards more often as their teeth and mouth grow.

Can someone with braces or dental implants wear a mouthguard?

Mouthguards help protect teeth, braces, dental implants and dental bridges from damage. Custom-fitted mouthguards work best. They fit the unique shape of the braces or implants.

Does insurance cover the cost of mouthguards?

Some dental health insurers cover part or all of the cost for custom-fitted mouthguards. 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 over-the-counter mouthguards.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Mouthguards protect your teeth from injury when you play sports, bike or do other on-the-move activities. You can buy mouthguards at stores or get a custom-fitted mouth protector from your dentist. Your dentist may recommend wearing a mouthguard while you sleep (night guard) to stop you from grinding your teeth. There are different types of mouthguards. Your dentist can suggest the best one for you.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy