Who Should Wear Athletic Mouthguards?

Athletes in all contact sports from football to basketball should wear a mouthguard.  It’s also advisable to wear a mouthguard when participating in any physical activity where there is a risk of jarring movement or injury to the face or jaw, like in skateboarding, skiing, or riding a scooter.  Mouthguards serve to protect teeth, tongue, lips, gums, jaw bones and reduce concussions rates and severity.  There are three main types of mouthguards that range from least protective to most protective, they are: prefabricated, “boil and bite,” and custom made.

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors basketball team is one of the best players in the National Basketball Association.  He has gained some notoriety for chewing on his mouthguard during games making him the poster athlete of professional sports for wearing a properly fitted mouthguard.  He started wearing the mouthguard after being hit in the mouth in college.  He suffered an injury requiring stitches that has left a scar but luckily, he did not lose any teeth or have a concussion.

Prefabricated mouthguards are purchased in a store and are generally the least expensive option. The cons, however, are they come in a standard size, cannot be custom fitted, require the athlete to bite to hold in place, and can be uncomfortable. They may also interfere with breathing and speech.  Bottom line: this option offers a low level of protection and can interfere with performance.

 “Boil and bite” mouthguards are also purchased in a store; however, they are customized at home using heat and then molded to the teeth and trimmed.  They offer a better level of protection and fit than prefabricated guards. However, they can be uncomfortable and can interfere with speech and breathing, which can adversely affect performance. If over trimmed for comfort, they become ineffective. In addition, they may need to be replaced during a season if they get distorted, cracked or bit through but if made properly and replaced as needed they can be sufficient for low risk activities.

Custom made guards offer maximum protection from trauma and concussion and maximum comfort without adversely affecting, breathing, speech or performance.  They are made by a dentist from a mold of the teeth and are very accurate, made from an appropriate thickness of material and trimmed for comfort.  The materials used are very durable and usually last a full season. They can be customized in different colors and logos and can be made to fit over braces.  They are suitable for all activities.

In many professional, collegiate, high schools and youth league sports, mouthguards are required.  These sports include the more obvious contact sports like boxing, martial arts, football, rugby, ice hockey, and lacrosse.  Athletes of all ages who participate in sports that are not necessarily considered contact like basketball, baseball, gymnastics, skating, horseback riding, soccer, skiing, biking and motocross can also experience significant injuries that can be lessened with a proper mouthguard. 

In youth sports, mouthguards should be changed out after each season to allow for proper growth of the jaws and eruption of the teeth.  They need to be kept away from pets and heat and should be washed in cold water with mild soap or toothpaste and stored in a case after each use.

All athletes would not be better protected by wearing a mouthguard, especially on e that is properly fitted.  The benefits of protection against tooth, tongue, gum, lip, jaw and concussion injuries far outweigh the minor inconvenience of wearing the appliance.  It can be fun to get creative by making mouthguards with team logos and/or colors.  Ask your dentist about athletic mouthguards.  Most dentists can make them in their office or send to a lab to be fabricated.

Stay healthy by being active while at the same time being safe.

Dr. Robert A. Gallegos is a Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry, visiting faculty at Spear Education, alumnus of Pankey Institute, a member the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and the American Dental Association.Dr. Gallegos practices dentistry in Middleburg, VA.www.MiddleburgSmiles.com

Dr. Gallegos