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Mouth Guards

What are Mouth Guards?

A large anterior tooth chip sustained playing hockey with no athletic mouth guard.

This young man was playing hockey without any type of facial protection. Although the tooth was simple to repair, it will require a lifetime of monitoring and probable subsequent repairs. The injury could easily have been avoided had the patient been wearing an athletic mouth guard.

Athletic mouth guards are tough, flexible vinyl coverings for the teeth and gums which are thick enough to absorb the impact of blows sustained in contact sports, and protect the teeth from being knocked loose or fractured. They can be purchased at sporting goods stores, or may be custom made by a dentist.

Mouth guards are appropriate whenever a patient is involved in activities that are potentially dangerous to the teeth, gums and tooth-supporting (alveolar) bone.

The process of fitting Mouth Guards

Over-the-counter athletic mouth guards are simple to make by following the package labeling. Some require no customization and are ready to use right out of the packaging. Others are semi-customizable. Generally, semi-customizable mouth guards are placed in hot water to soften them. The patient bites into the softened plastic, which then forms itself around the teeth. As it cools, the mouthguard takes on a tough, yet springy consistency similar to a tire.

The edges of the athletic mouth guard can then be trimmed with a scissors to eliminate any pressure points or areas of discomfort. It’s important not to trim them so short that they lose their effectiveness.

Custom dentist-made athletic mouth guards are a little more involved. Typically, only impressions of the upper teeth are made. Stone cast replicas (casts) of the teeth are then made from the impressions. A heated vacuum former is used to soften and closely adapt heavy vinyl over the casts. After the vinyl has cooled it returns to a tough, elastic state, and is trimmed to the appropriate extension such that all the teeth and gums are covered beyond the ends of the tooth roots.

Some advantages and benefits of Mouth Guards

Athletic mouth guards offer the following advantages/benefits:

  • They help protect against injuries to the teeth and tooth-supporting bone
  • They are simple to make, or to have made by a dentist
  • The are generally comfortable to wear
  • Over-the-counter athletic mouthguards are cheap and afford reasonable protection.
  • Custom dentist-made athletic mouthguards may fit a little better and their protective coverage can be verified by the dentist who makes them.

Potential disadvantages and risks of Mouth Guards

Disadvantages of athletic mouth guards may include:

  • Inconvenience factor-people may not remember to include them with their sports gear, and thus they may not be available when needed. In many youth sports, officials are enforcing their required use for participating in the games; however, they are too often left home from practice.
  • They increase saliva flow temporarily when first inserted.
  • The should be cleaned regularly to keep them germ-free
  • Custom dentist-made athletic mouthguards may be comparatively expensive—particularly for children, whose jaws and teeth are still developing. Custom mouth guards may need to be remade several times during a child’s development for best fit.

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Author: Thomas J. Greany, D.D.S. / Editor: Ken Lambrecht

This page was last updated on February 18, 2018.

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