This time of year, the sports fields are busy with team practices. That means plenty of chances for players to come in contact with a stick, bat or ball—not to mention the elbows or head of another player. Since May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, now is the perfect time to remind parents and players of all ages about the importance of wearing mouthguards.
Many sports teams require mouthguards as part of safety equipment. That’s true in football, lacrosse, and hockey, but just because other sports may not require it, that doesn’t mean mouthguards are any less important. If you practice martial arts, gymnastics, or basketball, for example, mouthguards could go a long way toward protecting your teeth.
I spoke to Dr. Suzy Press, a participating pediatric Delta Dental dentist, about why she encourages her patients to wear mouthguards.
“More than 200,000 injuries to the mouth and jaw occur each year1 ,” noted. Press. “Those injuries can happen right on the sports field and you want to be protected. Mouthguards can help protect your lips, tongue, teeth and soft tissues of your mouth. They’re effective in moving soft tissue away from your teeth, so there’s less chance of laceration or bruising of the lips or cheeks, especially if you wear braces. They can help prevent serious injuries such as cerebral hemorrhages, incidents of unconsciousness, jaw fractures and neck injuries by helping to avoid situations where the lower jaw gets jammed into the upper jaw.”2
But despite the benefits of mouthguards, not everyone is wearing them. According to a Delta Dental Plans Association survey 3 , only seven in ten football players wore mouthguards for both practice and games even though it was mandatory. The same survey reported that, in hockey, only four in ten players wore mouthguards for both practice and games.
“Parents should encourage their children to get into the habit of wearing a mouthguard,” said Dr. Press. “And parents who are active in team sports should model that behavior by wearing their own mouthguards.”
Mouthguards are most effective if they fit properly, are comfortable, and stay in place. There are three types of mouthguards available:
Stock mouthguards have a pre-formed shape. They’re the least expensive but also less effective than a fitted option.
Mouth-formed mouthguards can be purchased at many sporting goods stores. These can be molded to the individual’s mouth, usually by boiling the mouthguard in hot water to soften the plastic.
Custom-made mouthguards are made by a dentist from a mold of your teeth. They are typically the most expensive, but they provide the best fit and protection. You will likely need a custom mouthguard if you wear braces.
How to Care for Your Mouthguard
- Clean your mouthguard by washing it with soap and warm (not hot) water.
- Before storing, soak your mouthguard in mouthwash.
- Keep your mouthguard in a well-ventilated plastic storage box when not in use. Make sure the box has several holes so the mouthguard will dry.
- Heat can damage mouthguards, so don’t leave it in direct sunlight or in a closed automobile.
- Don’t bend your mouthguard when storing.
- Don’t handle or wear someone else’s mouthguard.
Like any piece of sports equipment, mouthguards will wear out. Replace your mouthguard if it has holes or tears, if it becomes loose or irritates your mouth. If you are unsure whether it is time to replace your mouthguard, bring it to your dentist to examine.