Mouth Guards: A Critical Piece of Protective Equipment for Athletes

athletic dental mouth-guard

Whether soccer in the fall, basketball over the winter, or welcoming spring on the softball diamond, our student athletes participate in sports year-round that require the use of a variety of protective equipment. While frequently overlooked, the importance of one particular piece of equipment can make a major impact despite being one of the smallest items an athlete can wear – the mouth guard.

Despite its small appearance, the mouth guard plays a key role in protecting our kids. It is critical that every player of a contact sport has a properly fitting mouth guard to protect his or her oral health from suffering permanent damage. At Barrett Family Dental, we can help prevent oral trauma suffered during sports with the creation of a custom-made mouth guard that will help protect an athlete’s oral health.

Benefits of a Custom-Made Mouth Guard

The primary goal of a mouth guard is to protect the teeth.  Nearly all of the sports we play put us at risk for contact to the head, which could result in injury to the mouth.  Teeth can easily be broken, knocked out, or have their nerve severed. These injuries can lead to painful emergencies that require expensive treatments to correct. However, by wearing properly fitting mouth guard, an athlete can greatly reduce their risk of these types of injuries.

In recent years, studies have begun to show the lifelong detrimental effects of concussions. As a result, concussion prevention has become a key player safety emphasis in sports of all levels. Studies have also shown that a properly fitted mouth guard will stabilize the lower jaw and the bottom of the skull, protecting them during impact. As a result, the head and neck can better tolerate being hit without injury. Although we still have a lot to learn about concussion and concussion prevention, it is becoming clearer by the day that the mouth guard will play a key role in this fight.

Types of Custom-Made Mouth Guards

There are many different types and brands of mouth guards available today, and it can be difficult to decide which type is the best option. Fortunately, all athletic mouth guards can be broken down into three different groups that include:

Custom Mouth Guard:  A custom mouth guard is a guard that is fabricated specifically for a specific athlete. To create one, Dr. Barrett will take an impression of the athlete’s mouth and create a model of their teeth. From this model, an ideally fitting mouth guard can be created which maximizes the safety of the player.

The improved fit and additional stability custom-made mouth guards the gold standard. They offer the best fit and provide the maximum level of safety. This is way all the professional athletes we see on television wear custom-made mouth guards.

The downside to a custom mouth guard is they are not available over the counter. A custom mouth guard must be fabricated by a licensed dentist to ensure proper fit.

Boil and Bite Guard: This is a mouth guard that comes pre-made and can be purchased over-the-counter at most sporting goods stores. Often they come in a variety of generic sizes that require buying the closest size. The guard is then molded and fitted at home.

Most of these types of brands require boiling the guard in water, before quickly dipping it in cold water.   The athlete then bites into the guard when it’s in a warm and in a malleable state. The guard will then retain its new shape after it cools.

There are many different brands and types of warm and mold guards and each comes with specific instructions on how to mold them.  Read it carefully to avoid being burned.

The upside for this type of guard is they are readily available and fairly inexpensive. They are also relatively easy to mold if the instructions are carefully followed. On the downside, this type of guard offers only moderate protection. Because they are a standard-size appliance, they don’t offer the same quality fit as a custom guard. Protection is compromised as a result.

Pre-Formed Guard: This is a mouth guard that comes pre-made and is ready to be used out of the box.  There is no molding required, only the proper size needs to be selected.

The upside to this type of guard is they are inexpensive, readily available, and require no modification to be used. The down side is they offer minimal protection.  The value this guard is best described as “better than nothing.” Due to the minimal protection offered by pre-formed mouth guards, Dr. Barrett doesn’t recommend them.

Athlete Safety Remains Our Top Priority

Regardless of the type of mouth guard selected, it is imperative that the guard be regularly inspected for damage and wear. Mouth guards do wear out over time and their protection diminishes.  It is recommended that guards be replaced at least annually, and sooner if they become damaged, worn, or if their fit changes do to athlete growth.

At Barrett Family Dental, we recommended custom mouth guards because they offer the optimal protection for our young athletes. Fabrication of custom mouth guards is a service we offer and we take great pride in helping our young athletes complete safely.