A mouth guard is a protective tool worn over the teeth by people who participate in high-impact or ‘dangerous’ sports to protect them from impact-related injuries. Dentists also prescribe a special mouth guard known as a bite splint or nocturnal bite-plate for individuals who suffer from bruxism (teeth grinding).
Mouth guards are mostly worn to protect the top teeth, but under certain circumstances, such as if you have braces, you might need a guard for your lower teeth. You’ll also need a mouth guard for your lower teeth if you have dental fixtures like crowns and bridges.
There are three types of mouth guards:
- Stock protectors
These are not customized and are ready-made and can be purchased at drug stores or sports shops. Since they are generic, they are fairly priced. Their main disadvantage is that you cannot be guaranteed a good fit, therefore they might feel oversized or too tight. They might also negatively impact your ability to breathe and talk. Most dentists do not recommend this type of mouth guard because they don’t offer very good protection.
- Boil-and-bite mouth guards
These mouth guards, made of a flexible thermoplastic material, require you to dip them into hot water before putting them in your mouth and biting down on them. Though they are commonly available in drug stores, when you bite on them after immersing them in hot water, they easily shape around your teeth, providing a better fit than stock protectors.
- Custom mouth guards
The third and most preferable type of mouth guards are custom-made. These are prescribed by a dentist and are made to fit the specific dimensions of your mouth. To make them, the dentist has to take an impression of your teeth. The impression is sent to the lab and a mouth guard is formed from it. Though they are the most expensive, they offer the best protection and comfort.
The main qualities of a good mouth guard should be:
- High quality
- Ease of cleaning
- They should not impede speech or breathing
Who should wear a mouth guard
Anyone can wear a mouth guard as long as they fall in the following groups:
- Those who participate in contact sports like boxing, martial arts, hockey, basketball, football.
- Participants in a non-contact sport that might have occasional injuries from falls. For instance, mountain biking or skiing.
- People who grind their teeth.
Why a mouth guard is useful during sports
Sports injuries are one of the most common causes of chipped teeth, dislodging, broken teeth and teeth loss. Other injuries to the tongue, mouth tissue and lips can also be prevented when wearing a mouth guard.
Taking care of your mouth guard
To keep your mouth guard safe and functional, you should do the following:
- Before and after you use your mouth guard, rinse it in cold water or with mouth wash.
- To deep wash it, use mild soap and warm water.
- If transporting it, store in a container that’s perforated. This will allow it to ‘breathe’ and prevent damage.
- Store in clean plain water if it’s made of acrylic.
- Keep away from heat to prevent it from distorting.
- Replace your mouth guard at the first sign of wear and tear.
- Always carry your mouth guard to dentist’s appointments so that he/she can examine it.