Mouth guards are flexible plastic devices that protect a person’s teeth and mouth from injury during athletics and other activities. In addition, mouth guards are sometimes recommended by a dentist for patients who excessively grind their teeth (bruxism) and to help treat TMJ disorder.
There are three different types of mouth guards:
- Stock mouth guards. Preformed devices that usually do not fit well. Most experts do not consider them as protective as other types of mouth guards, although they may be the only type available for some patients, such as those who wear braces.
- Boil-and-bite mouth guards. Made of acrylic gel or thermoplastic materials. The wearer dips the mouth guard into a pot of boiled water before fitting it around the teeth.
- Custom-fitted mouth guards. Made by a dentist and designed to precisely accommodate an individual’s bite.
In many cases, people wear mouth guards that cover the top teeth only. However, people with braces or other fixed appliances on the lower jaw or people with TMJ disorders may benefit from having a mouth guard that covers the lower teeth as well.
Mouth guards usually need minimal care. They should be washed with soap and warm water and soaked in mouthwash before being stored in a well-ventilated plastic container. Mouth guards should not be left in the sun or in warm places such as a closed automobile.
About mouth guards
A mouth guard is a device that protects a person’s teeth and mouth from damage during certain activities that may cause dental harm. More than 200,000 mouth and jaw injuries are reported each year, according to the Academy of General Dentistry.
Mouth guards are flexible devices made of plastic that cover the teeth. Mouth guards are typically worn to protect teeth during activities that leave the teeth vulnerable to injury. People wear them when playing a wide variety of sports, including football, hockey, boxing, basketball, baseball, soccer, gymnastics, volleyball, wrestling, lacrosse and rugby.
Although people usually think of contact sports as causing most dental injuries, nearly half of oral injuries in children occur during participation in baseball and basketball, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
Mouth guards are also used during activities such as biking, in-line skating, skateboarding and martial arts. Removable appliances (e.g., retainers, bridges or complete or partial dentures) should not be worn with mouth guards during participation in athletic activity. Any mouth jewelry, especially “barbells” in the tongues of people with oral piercings, should not be worn at the same time as a mouth guard. This can cause gagging due to excess saliva production, choking or intestinal injury if the jewelry is accidentally swallowed.
In addition, mouth guards are sometimes recommended or prescribed by a dentist for patients who excessively grind their teeth (bruxism). This can prevent conditions such as jaw pain and excessive wear of the teeth. Mouth guards may also be used to help treat TMJ disorder.
In most cases, people wear mouth guards that cover the top teeth only. However, people with braces or other fixed appliances (e.g., bridges) on the lower jaw may benefit from having a mouth guard that covers the lower teeth as well. People who wear mouth guards that fit properly are able to breathe normally and talk with only a minor obstruction to speech.
There are three different types of mouth guards. Stock mouth guards are inexpensive and come preformed. However, they usually do not fit well and may make it difficult for the wearer to breathe and talk. Most experts do not consider that stock mouth guards provide as much protection as other types of mouth guards, although they may be the only type available for some patients, such as those who wear braces.
Boil-and-bite mouth guards are relatively inexpensive and may be found in sporting goods stores. They usually are made of acrylic gel or thermoplastic materials and fit better than stock mouth guards because the wearer dips the mouth guard into a pot of boiled water before fitting it around the teeth. The heat of the water leaves the plastic pliable so that it fits around the teeth. However, the directions must be followed carefully to ensure a proper fit. Patients in the middle of orthodontic treatment, such as braces or removable aligners, should not wear these fitted mouth guards.
Custom-fitted mouth guards are made by a dentist and are designed to precisely accommodate an individual’s bite. A cast of the patient’s teeth is used to create this type of mouth guard. Custom-fitted mouth guards are typically used for patients who are diagnosed with bruxism.
The better a mouth guard fits, the more likely it is to be comfortable, tear-resistant and resilient. Mouth guards that fit properly also are more likely to evenly distribute the force of an impact that results from an accident or collision. In addition, patients are more likely to wear mouth guards that fit properly than those that do not.
Mouth guards can be an extremely effective device in protecting a patient’s teeth and mouth. However, a mouth guard must be worn regularly for a person to get the maximum protective benefit from it. Some people refuse to wear mouth guards because of concerns over cost or image. Others may dislike the inconvenience of wearing a mouth guard. Nonetheless, experts continue to promote mouth guard use as crucial to preventing potentially devastating oral injuries.
Conditions treated with mouth guards
When properly fitted to a person’s teeth, mouth guards can prevent the teeth from becoming chipped, fractured or knocked loose during physical activity. This is particularly important during athletics. Athletes who do not wear mouth guards are 70 times more likely to experience damage to their teeth, according to the Academy of General Dentistry.
Mouth guards also move soft tissue in the mouth away from the teeth, which helps to protect the lips, tongue or cheek. This is particularly important for people who have braces that may injure the mouth or gum tissue during an accident.
In addition to protecting the mouth, mouth guards can act as a shock absorber to prevent the lower jaw from being jammed into the upper jaw during blows to the head, face or neck. This can help prevent conditions such as concussions, cerebral hemorrhages, unconsciousness, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dislocation and neck injuries.
Mouth guards may be recommended or prescribed for patients who grind or clench their teeth. This activity (bruxism) can lead to many problems ranging from jaw pain and joint problems (e.g., TMJ disorder) to excessive wearing of the teeth. These mouth guards are often designed for use at night, while a patient sleeps, because this is the time when most teeth grinding occurs. They do not prevent the grinding, but keep the teeth from being damaged, alleviate muscle tension and reduce pressure on the jaw. Mouth guards used for this purpose are sometimes called night guards.
Over-the-counter mouth guards may also be used to protect against bruxing. However, these mouth guards are much less likely to precisely fit a patient’s teeth and therefore may come dislodged during bruxing.
Patients who regularly use a mouth guard to help prevent bruxing-related problems should be examined regularly by a dentist. The dentist will look for signs of tooth movement or cavities that may be associated with using a mouth guard overnight.
Caring for a mouth guard
Mouth guards usually need minimal care. They should be washed with soap and warm water. However, it is important not to use hot water because this can cause the mouth guard to lose its shape. Likewise, mouth guards should not be left in the sun or in warm places such as a closed automobile. A toothbrush and toothpaste may be used to clean the mouth guard.
Mouth guards should be soaked in an antiseptic mouthwash before they are stored. They should be stored in a plastic container that is properly ventilated so the mouth guard will dry thoroughly. Patients should be careful not to bend the mouth guard while cleaning or storing it.
Over time, mouth guards may wear out, which reduces their ability to protect the mouth and teeth. In addition, a worn mouth guard may irritate the teeth and surrounding oral tissues. For these reasons, mouth guards should be replaced as soon as they develop holes or tears, or once they start to become loose.
Questions for your doctor about mouth guards
Preparing questions in advance can help patients have more meaningful discussions regarding their treatment options. The following questions related to mouth guards may be helpful:
- When should I wear a mouth guard?
- What type of mouth guard is right for me? What are the pros and cons of each?
- How much will a custom-fitted mouth guard cost?
- How long will it take to create my custom-fitted mouth guard?
- Do I require a mouth guard for my bottom teeth?
- If I wash my mouth guard with soap, do I still need to dip it in mouthwash? Why?
- What if lose my mouth guard container? Do you know where I could get another one?
- What should I do if my mouth guard changes shape?
- Is there a danger that I could swallow my mouth guard accidentally?
- How long will my mouth guard last? How often should I have you check it?