Definition and Overview
Mouthguards, or mouth protectors, are often worn during sports and other strenuous, high-impact activities to prevent the occurrence of lip, face, tongue, or jaw injury, as well as broken teeth. A mouthguard usually covers the upper teeth to prevent them from puncturing the tongue, lips, and the insides of the cheek (as well as major damage to soft tissues in the area) in the event of a blow or injury to the face and mouth.
Many sporting activities require the use of a mouthguard as standard athletic gear. Athletes participating in events such as rugby, football, soccer, basketball, field hockey, ice hockey, skiing, snowboarding, mixed martial arts, lacrosse, figure skating, boxing, wrestling, and other such sports run a high risk of suffering from dental injuries and mouthguards can prevent them from occurring.
There are three basic types of mouthguards, namely:
- Custom-fitted mouthguards. This type of dental appliance is custom-fitted and specially manufactured for individual patients. Custom-fitted mouthguards are comparably more expensive than other types of mouthguards, but can offer the best fit and maximum protection. There are two more subcategories for custom-fitted mouthguards: vacuum form mouthguards, which are made from a vacuum form machine that produces multiple layers fused together before being worn; and pressure-laminated mouthguards, which are made using a pressure lamination machine. For the highest level of comfort, fit, and protection, it is best to go with a pressure-laminated mouthguard.
- Stock mouthguards. As its name implies, this type of mouthguards is readily available and ready-to-wear. They are relatively inexpensive and made using a standard mold. They can be bought in athletic equipment stores, but they do not offer a custom fit. Many types of stock mouthguards are bulky, and can pose a problem for the wearer whenever he or she is talking or breathing. Very few medical and dental professionals will recommend this type to their patients.
- Boil and bite mouthguards. These are readily available in sporting goods stores, but unlike stock mouthguards, can offer more protection for strenuous activities such as sports. Boil and bite mouthguards are made from a special thermoplastic material that can be submerged in hot water to customize the fit. The patient can use the tongue or fingers to further improve the fit of the mouthguard.
Aside from their use in sporting events, mouthguards can also prevent teeth grinding or bruxism while the patient sleeps. This type of mouthguard is known as a bite splint or a nocturnal bite plate and is useful in preventing tooth wear. Specialized mouthguards prescribed by dentists can also correct crooked and misaligned teeth over time.
A good mouthguard must always be comfortable to wear, is tear-resistant, durable, easy to clean and sanitize, and should not impede speech or breathing.
Who should undergo and expected results
Mouthguards can be worn by anyone, regardless of age or gender. Athletes engaging in contact sports should always wear a mouthguard that fits well and offers adequate protection against accidents in the field. Individuals who participate in recreational activities such as mountain biking or skateboarding should also wear mouthguards to minimize the risk of dental or oral injuries. Basically, anyone who participates in an activity where the likelihood of dental or oral injuries is high should never forget to wear a mouthguard.
Patients with dental issues such as an overbite, bruxism, or crooked or misaligned teeth are ideal candidates for custom-fitted mouthguards, which are specially manufactured with the help of a dental professional. Patients with a fixed dental appliance on the lower jaw, such as braces, should wear a mouth protector for both the upper and lower teeth to prevent the metal or dental-grade plastic or ceramic from slicing into the soft tissues of the mouth.
Mouthguards can protect the upper and lower teeth from severe injuries in the event of an impact to the face, and can also correct a wide variety of dental issues and temporomandibular problems.
How the procedure works
With a custom-fitted mouthguard, the individual must visit a dentist's office. The dentist will take molds of the patient's teeth to manufacture a mouthguard that fits snugly and does not impede speech or breathing.
Boil and bite mouthguards, on the other hand, can be purchased from a sporting goods store. These mouthguards are then placed in warm water to soften the thermoplastic and put inside the mouth to customize the fit.
Possible risks and complications
The use of mouthguards does not completely eliminate the risk of dental or oral injuries, and very rarely, can even contribute to patient issues in the face of injury. Stock mouthguards can also cause problems because of their problematic fit and size.
- American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons: "Consumer's guide for choosing the right mouthguard” and "Treating and Preventing Facial Injury."
- American Dental Association: "Mouthguards."