Your teeth are made of one of the hardest materials in the world. But that doesn't mean they are unbreakable. There's a real risk of damage to your teeth if they are hit with any amount of force, such as during a football or soccer game or if you were to fall when riding a bike. That's why dentists recommend wearing mouth guards during sports or other physical activity.
Mouth guards come in a variety of styles and shapes. Some have a lip guard mouthpiece on the front, while others cover the top row of teeth only. Understanding which injuries are the most common during sports and how different mouth guards protect the teeth and other parts of the mouth can help you determine which type is right for you.
Sports-Related Dental Injuries
People often think of cracked or missing teeth when they think of oral injuries related to sports. But, as an article published in Sports Health points out, injuries to the soft tissue are the most common. Around 90 percent of oral and dental injuries involved the lips, maxillary (upper) jaw and maxillary central incisors.
Wearing a mouth guard significantly reduces the risk of injury during sports. Sports Health's study found that athletes had between 1.6 and 1.9 times the risk for injury when they didn't wear a mouth guard.
Mouth guards help protect the teeth, lips and other areas of the mouth in several ways. First, they are made of a shock-absorbing material, so they cushion any blows to the face. Second, they form a barrier between the teeth, lips and other soft tissue to reduce the chance of cuts. If an athlete has braces, a mouth guard can also protect the braces from damage and keep the braces from cutting the lips or cheeks, according to the American Dental Association.
Types of Mouth Guard
There are three main types of mouth guard available. The least expensive option, known as stock mouth guards, often have a lip guard on the front, which covers the upper and lower lips when a person is biting down on it. While the lip guard provides an extra layer of protection for an athlete, stock mouth guards are generally considered uncomfortable and inconvenient. To wear one, an athlete needs to keep his or her mouth closed.
Boil and bite mouth guards are slightly more expensive than stock options and offer a bit more of a custom fit because you can mold the guard to your teeth after soaking it in hot water. Although these mouth guards can be shaped to fit your teeth, they won't necessarily provide an exact fit.
On the other hand, custom-fit mouth guards do provide an exact fit, as they are molded after a dentist takes an impression of your teeth. Custom-fit mouth guards typically do not have an additional lip guard, as they are designed to fit securely over the teeth, providing the greatest amount of cushioning and protection.
If you need a mouth guard ASAP and can only choose a stock option, it makes sense to look for one that has a lip guard mouthpiece in addition to covering the teeth. But, if you are seeing your dentist for a custom-fit mouth guard, the protection you get from the device over your teeth is likely to be sufficient.
Caring for Your Mouth Guard
Whether you end up with an inexpensive stock mouth guard with a lip guard or a pricier, custom-fit mouth guard, you want to take good care of it so that it lasts as long as possible. To keep the mouth guard as clean as possible, brush your teeth before you wear it. After you hang up your cleats, clean the mouth guard with your toothbrush and toothpaste, then dry thoroughly before putting it away. Keep the mouth guard in a clean, dry place. That means not the bottom of your gym bag!
Remember that your dentist is there to help. He or she can prepare a custom mouth guard for you and offer tips on caring for it between practices and games.