Okay, pause for a moment and ask yourself this question, how many teeth are you okay with breaking or losing? If you said none, you are wiser in more ways than one. Not only is a broken tooth costly to fix and replace, but it affects how you eat, how you smile, and how you speak. This can impact your work and other social interactions.
Unfortunately, every year, dental injuries from sports land around 600,000 people in the emergency room. And in the case of sports injuries, this is often preventable. In fact, an estimated 200,000 injuries to the mouth are prevented annually thanks to the use of mouth guards.
A sports guard/mouth guard/athletic guard is a soft, plastic oral appliance designed to protect your teeth and soft oral tissues. These ‘guards’ are worn over your upper teeth to protect you from lacerations to your lips, tongue, and cheeks, in addition to shielding your teeth. Without a mouth guard when engaging in high-impact sports or recreational activities, you may chip or break teeth, fracture dental crowns or bridgework, suffer damage to the root of a tooth, fracture or displace your jaw, or even incur a concussion.
This is crucial because if you are engaging in activity that involves physical contact with others, equipment flying around, or falling down, a sports guard will keep your teeth and tissues in check. If you are wearing a fixed oral appliance such as braces or a dental bridge on your lower teeth, a mouth guard might be needed to protect them as well as your upper teeth.
A mouth guard is designed to do two things; one, absorb the forces of impact when engaging in athletic recreation that may incur contact, and two, to distribute these forces evenly in your mouth. This protection prevents or limits injury to the mouth, saving you from harm, pain, and dental expenses down the road. What options do you have when it comes to your mouth guard? Essentially you have three choices:
— Stock guards: This is your most basic mouth guard. They come preformed so you simply pop them over your teeth. These mouth guards do not protect as well as higher-end mouth guards that are personalized to your smile. Stock guards can be found in sporting good stores, drugstores, and online retailers. Because they are already preformed, stock guards can be uncomfortable to wear and make it harder to breathe and speak.
— Boil and bite guards: These mouth guards are easy to find, affordable options. Like stock guards, you can pick them up at local sporting goods stores, drugstores, or online retailers. To prepare them for use, simply soften them in boiled water, place them on your teeth, and let them mold to your bite. We advise using products carrying the ADA (American Dental Association) Seal of Acceptance because their rigorous testing ensures that you, the consumer, end up with a product that is both safe and effective.
— Custom guards: Mouth guards custom-fitted for your smile are offered by your dentist, orthodontist, or online dental lab. Custom guards are designed for optimal fit, comfort, and protection. If you are considering a mouthguard for a child or teen, it can be crafted to accommodate space for their teeth and jaw to grow. Custom guards are also best if you wear braces or have a fixed dental bridge, as those items are expensive to repair if you sustain an injury. If you are wearing braces on your lower teeth, a mouth guard can also be created for them.
— Caring for your guard: In between uses, your mouth guard will need to be kept in a sturdy receptacle with ventilation. This will help it remain dry and discourage bacterial growth. Remember to keep the guard away from heat to prevent warping. This includes water and sunlight (so no storing it in a hot car!). To clean the appliance, rinse before and after wearing with water, and brush it with toothpaste and a toothbrush to clean.
You will want to regularly check the appliance to make sure there is no noticeable wear and tear. If you have a custom mouth guard, bring it to your dentist during checkups to make sure it is in good shape and still fits correctly.