Mouth guard, also called mouth protector, is a flexible appliance made of soft plastic or laminate material that protects the teeth, lips, cheeks and tongue. Mouth guards are an essential gear if you participate in organized sports or recreational activities. Athletes in contact sports are especially susceptible to orofacial injuries. However, these dental injuries are preventable by wearing protective mouth guards. If you have been diagnosed with bruxism (teeth grinding), you will also profit from using mouth guards.
There are several types of mouth guards on the market:
Stock mouth guards range in size and you can buy them in athletic or sporting goods stores. They are inexpensive, but are not custom made for your mouth and tend to wear out quickly. They often do not fit very well and can make breathing and talking difficult because this mouth guard requires that the jaw be closed to hold it in place. Stock mouth guards offer only a low level of protection, if any. If the wearer is rendered unconscious, there is a risk the mouth guard may lodge in the throat, potentially causing an airway obstruction.
Boil and Bite mouth guards can be molded to teeth by heating them in boiling water and pressing them onto the teeth with your fingers. They are relatively inexpensive, but also tend to wear quickly. You can buy them in sporting goods stores. They also have some of the same disadvantages as stock mouth guards. You may have trouble breathing and you have to keep your jaws closed to keep it in place.
Custom-fit mouth guards are more expensive than the other versions. They are custom made by your dentist to suit your individual needs. Your dentist will take an impression of your teeth and send it to the dental laboratory where the mouth guard will be fabricated. Custom-fit mouth guards are comfortable to wear, allow you to speak clearly, do not restrict your breathing and will not shift or fall out when your jaw is open. If you are a teeth grinder, you can obtain a thinner and more discrete mouth guard than the typical sports guards. These are not designed to protect your teeth from a kick or punch, but can help you ease the symptoms of bruxism without additional breathing, speaking, or sleeping difficulties. They are also more than sufficient to cushion the jaw to prevent pain from clenching, and to protect the enamel from teeth grinding. A custom-fit mouth guard is especially important for people who wear braces or have fixed bridgework. It prevents damage to the brackets or fixed orthodontic appliances. It also limits the risk of soft tissue injuries, acting as a barrier between your braces and your cheek or lips.
Tips for caring for your mouth guard
- Occasionally clean your mouth guard with soap and cool (not hot) water
- After each use brush it with a toothbrush and toothpaste or soak it in mouthwash and rinse it thoroughly.
- Store your mouth guard in a rigid plastic container to prevent the mouth guard from bending. Make sure that the container has holes to let the mouth guard dry. If the mouth guard is acrylic, keep it in fresh clean water.
- Heat is bad for a mouth guard because it distorts its shape. Never leave it in direct sunlight, hot water, or a closed automobile.
- Check for wear and replace if it is damaged.
- Never wear someone else’s mouth guard.
- Bring the mouth guard to your scheduled dental visit to have the dentist examine it.
When choosing a mouth guard, it is always best to consult your dentist or orthodontist who can determine the mouth guard that will provide the best protection for your unique mouth work.