Mouthguards are coverings that are worn over teeth. They are often used to protect teeth from injury caused by teeth grinding and sports-related trauma.
There are three types of mouthguards:
- Stock mouth protectors are preformed and come ready to wear. They are inexpensive and can be bought at most sporting goods stores and pharmacies. However, little can be done to adjust their fit, they are bulky and make breathing and talking difficult, and they provide little or no protection. Dentists do not recommend their use.
- Boil and bite mouth protectors also can be bought at many sporting goods stores and may offer a better fit than stock mouth protectors. The "boil and bite" mouthguard is made from thermoplastic material. It is placed in hot water to soften, then placed in the mouth and shaped around the teeth using finger and tongue pressure.
- Custom-fitted mouth protectors are individually designed and made in a dental office or a professional laboratory based on your dentist's instructions. First, your dentist will make an impression of your teeth. A mouthguard is then molded over the model using a special material. Because of the special material and the extra time and work involved, this custom-made mouthguard is more expensive than the other types, but it provides the most comfort and best fit and protection.
Mouthguards usually cover your upper teeth only, but in some instances (for instance, if you wear braces or another fixed dental appliance on your lower jaw), your dentist will make a mouthguard for the lower teeth, as well.
Your dentist can suggest the best mouthguard for you. An effective mouthguard should not restrict your breathing or speech. It should be comfortable, resist tears, and be durable and easy to clean.
If you grind your teeth at night, a special mouthguard-type of dental appliance, called a nocturnal bite plate or bite splint, may be created to prevent tooth damage. This appliance is usually made of hard resin by a dentist, and is in harmony with a patient’s bite. If properly designed, the bite plate should slow the wear on your teeth and help reduce jaw muscle activity during grinding.
Who needs a mouthguard?
Soft mouthguards should be used by anyone – both children and adults – who take part in contact sports such as football, boxing, soccer, ice hockey, basketball, lacrosse, and field hockey. However, even those who participate in non-contact sports (for example, gymnastics) or any recreational activity (for example, skateboarding, mountain biking) that might pose a risk of injury to the mouth would benefit from a protective mouthguard.
Adults and children who grind their teeth at night should have a nocturnal bite plate or bite splint made to prevent tooth damage.
Why use a mouthguard when playing sports?
Accidents can happen during any physical activity. A mouthguard can help limit the risk of mouth-related injuries to your lips, tongue, and the soft tissues of your mouth. Mouthguards also help you avoid chipped or broken teeth, nerve damage to a tooth, or even tooth loss.
Can I wear a mouthguard if I wear braces?
Yes. Since an injury to the face could damage orthodontic brackets or other fixed appliances, a properly fitted mouthguard may be especially important for people who wear braces or have fixed bridge work. Your dentist or orthodontist can determine the mouthguard that will provide the best protection for your unique mouth work. An important reminder: do not wear any retainers or other removable appliance during any contact sports or during any recreational activities that can put your mouth at risk for injury.
How do I care for my mouthguard?
To care for your mouthguard:
- Rinse your mouthguard with cold water or with a mouth rinse, and/or clean it with toothpaste and a toothbrush, before and after each use. Do not use denture cleaners for a soft mouthguard.
- Clean the mouthguard occasionally in cool, soapy water, and rinse it thoroughly.
- Place the mouthguard in a firm container to store or transport it. Keep the mouthguard away from pets such as dogs and cats that can destroy the appliance.
- Protect the mouthguard from high temperatures – such as hot water, hot surfaces, or direct sunlight – to help prevent changing its shape.
- Check the mouthguard occasionally for general wear. If you find holes or tears in it, or if it becomes loose or causes discomfort, replace it.
- Bring the mouthguard to each regularly scheduled dental visit to have your dentist exam it.