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Do Sports Mouthguards Really Work? If So, Which Mouthguard is Best?

Many people who play sports invest significant sums of money in equipment to help improve performance and comfort while they play. While they may spend a lot of money on items like footwear, not so many will invest in a properly fitting mouthguard. However, a well-fitting sports mouthguard is essential to any athlete’s equipment. It can help prevent the pain of a severe mouth injury and all the anxiety, suffering, and expense accompanying it.

Many people won’t wear a mouthguard because they are not convinced it works. However, there has been a significant amount of research into mouthguard use, the design of mouthguards, and the material used. Nowadays, dentists can fabricate mouthguards from materials chosen for their superior protective qualities.

Modern mouthguards are designed to anticipate an unwanted collision, accounting for mouth size and shape, as well as gum and lip tissue and tooth structure. There’s little doubt that wearing a mouthguard can significantly reduce the risk of injury to teeth, gums, and your facial structure. While there are claims that mouthguards can help prevent concussion, the evidence for this is inconsistent, but if you value your smile, you should wear a mouthguard!

Which Type of Mouthguard Is Best?

There are many designs and makes of mouthguards on the market, including lots that you can buy over-the-counter from drugstores and other retail stores. These over-the-counter mouthguards fall into two categories. The first is a stock mouthguard.

Stock Mouthguards

Ready-made or stock mouthguards are the cheapest options available, costing just a few dollars. However, you do get what you pay for as a stock mouthguard offers very limited protection. It usually only comes in sizes small, medium, or large and cannot be adjusted to fit your mouth correctly. Wearing a stock mouthguard might be better than wearing nothing, but they tend to be very uncomfortable to use and can easily fall out.

Boil and Bite Mouthguards

The second category is called a boil and bite mouthguard, where you buy an inner lining with an outer shell of acrylic or rubber. It’s made from a thermoplastic material so that when you place the mouthguard in boiling water, it becomes moldable. You simply insert it into your mouth and use your fingers, bite pressure and tongue to adapt the mouthguard as best you can over your teeth. Again, boil and bite mouthguards are available in very few sizes and usually do not protect all the back teeth. With some adaptation, they provide a better fit than stock mouthguards but remain very uncomfortable to wear.

The problem with over-the-counter mouthguards is that they are uncomfortable to use, so they are less likely to be worn. An over-the-counter mouthguard can fall out easily or can obstruct breathing. If you care about your oral health and especially if you love playing sports, a custom-made mouthguard is the best option.

Why Is a Custom-Made Mouthguard Best?

All the research shows that a custom-made mouthguard that is designed and fabricated by a dental professional will offer the best level of support. When you see your dentist for a custom-made mouthguard, they take your individual needs into account during your initial examination. This can be extremely useful when fitting a young child or adolescent with a custom-made mouthguard because sometimes it’s possible to accommodate jaws that are still growing and teeth yet to erupt and to design the mouthguard accordingly.

Made to Fit Precisely over Your Teeth

Unlike an over-the-counter mouthguard, a custom mouthguard is made using an exact model of your teeth so you can be sure it fits precisely and comfortably. Dentists use the latest materials that are tear-resistant and resilient and are odor and taste-free. With a custom mouthguard, you are ensured of having a mouthguard that fits properly, is comfortable to wear and will not restrict your breathing, and will be easy to clean. It won’t feel bulky to wear and should have excellent retention. Custom mouthguards can be thickened in critical areas providing maximum support.

Modern mouthguards are often pressure laminated, made from a thermoplastic material that is adapted over a model of your teeth with a vacuum machine. A technician then trims and polishes the mouthguard, making sure all your teeth are covered correctly and that the mouthguard is fitted around your gums properly. With a custom mouthguard, back teeth are covered and protected. Some mouthguards are layered or laminated and can be even more effective in absorbing an unwanted impact.

How Long Will a Mouthguard Last?

Generally, an adult sports mouthguard will last two years with normal use. When you have a sports mouthguard, it’s important to bring it with you to every checkup so your dentist can evaluate it. They can check its condition and will look for any small tears or weaknesses that could affect its protection ability. Growing children and adolescents may need their mouthguard replacing more frequently, but it’s a small price to pay when you are protecting their teeth.

How to Care for a Sports Mouthguard?

Just like any dental appliance, it’s important to care for your sports mouthguard and to keep it clean and free from bacteria. The materials used to fabricate sports mouthguards are often quite porous and can harbor harmful microorganisms unless thoroughly cleaned.

Make sure you rinse your mouthguard thoroughly before and after each use, or you could brush it gently using a toothbrush and a little toothpaste. Otherwise, clean your mouthguard using cold soapy water or mouth rinse. Your dentist will provide you with a custom case for your mouthguard and which contains vents. Make sure you store your mouthguard in the case provided, which will keep it clean and dry. It’s important not to immerse your mouthguard in hot water or leave it in the sun because the heat could distort it.

A custom sports mouthguard will provide maximum protection for your teeth and facial structures, but it cannot prevent every sporting accident. However, it will at least minimize the impact, reducing the severity of the injury.

If you do take a blow to your mouth and damage or knock out a tooth, contact your local dentist or Dr. Gibbs immediately for advice and help. It’s especially important to see a dentist within the first half an hour to an hour after knocking out a tooth if there is to be any hope of saving it.

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