Wearing a mouth guard is an important precaution for athletes of all ages and abilities, helping to protect against chipped or broken teeth, root and bone damage, and tooth loss. Mouth guards also safeguard against serious injuries such as jaw fracture, cerebral hemorrhage, concussion and neck injuries by helping to avoid situations where the lower jaw jams into the upper jaw. By keeping soft tissue in the oral cavity away from the teeth, mouth guards help prevent cutting and bruising of the lips, tongue and cheeks, especially for athletes who wear orthodontic appliances.
A properly fitted sports mouth guard must be:
- tear resistant
- have excellent retention and fit
- cause minimal interference to speaking and breathing
Types of Mouth Guards
Mouth guards are available in three types:
Stock mouth guards, which can be purchased in sporting goods and drug stores, come pre-formed and ready to wear. Although they’re the least expensive, they are also the worst fitting and least comfortable or protective. Made of rubber or polyvinyl, these pre-formed guards can be bulky, increase the tendency to gag, and make breathing and talking difficult because they require the jaw to be closed to hold them in place.
Mouth-formed mouth guards can be either a shell liner or a boil-and-bite kind. The first type is lined with acrylic gel or rubber that molds to the teeth and sets to keep its shape. The second type, made of thermoplastic, is placed in boiling water then formed and molded to the contours of the teeth using the fingers, lips, tongue and biting pressure. Boil-and-bite mouth guards can be reheated and refitted if the fit isn’t comfortable initially.
Both types of mouth-formed mouth guards are available online and at sporting goods and drug stores. While they do provide a better fit than stock mouth guards, they can be bulky and do not offer the same fit and protection as a custom-fitted mouth guard.
Custom-fitted mouth guards are more expensive than the other types of mouth guards, but they provide the greatest degree of fit, comfort and protection because they are made from a cast to precisely fit your teeth. Your dentist makes an impression of your teeth and a dental laboratory technician — either in the dentist’s office or at an off-site dental laboratory — uses the impression as a mold to create the custom-fitted mouth guard.