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Professional Sports Mouthguard: Don’t use your teeth as your mouthguard

A Conversation with Dr. Kelly Wang

Baseball requires helmets, martial arts require headgears, hockey requires facemasks, and for the same reason our teeth should be protected by a mouthguard when we engage in any sport that comes with risks of facial impact, falling, biting down hard, clenching or teeth grinding. These activities include but are not limited to:

Common contact sports: Boxing, martial arts, taekwondo, judo/jujitsu, wrestling, MMA, rugby/football, soccer, basketball, baseball, squash, water polo, ice hockey, softball, volleyball, lacrosse, cricket

Common non-contact sports with risks of falling: Ice skating, rollerblading, skateboarding, gymnastics, cycling, motor biking, horseback riding, skiing, snowboarding, surfing, rock climbing, kayaking, sprinting, parachuting/skydiving, tennis

Common sports that may cause teeth clenching/grinding: weightlifting, weight training, high intensity training, crossfit, motorsports, race driving, extreme sports

Adults and teenagers will all benefit from the protection of a mouthguard in any sport that comes with risks of teeth injury. Unlike other parts of our body, once injury happens, our teeth will not recover on their own. Only prevention will help preserve our natural teeth. Chipped or fractured teeth, dislocated teeth (luxated), knocked out teeth (avulsion) are much more costly to treat than to have a protective sports mouthguard made in the first place. The cost of protection is much cheaper than treatment.

If you are already wearing a sports mouthguard, then you are in the right direction. But is your sports mouthguard custom-made and fitted by a dentist?

Sports mouthguard has many names such as: mouth protector, mouth piece, gumshield, gumguard, and sports guard, but they pretty much all mean the same thing. Generally, they fall under three categories:

Custom-made/custom-fitted by dentists: This type of sports mouthguards provide the highest protection and are more durable than the rest. They can only be provided by a dentist, who will make them based on your unique oral and teeth conditions and specific sporting needs. A dentist custom-fitted and thermoformed mouthguard will best fit your mouth and teeth with minimal margins of error, allowing for the best protection and comfort.

Boil-and-bite: Over-the-counter boil-and-bite mouthguards are much cheaper and conveniently available on the internet. Consumers only need to soften them in hot water, press them against their teeth for less than a minute, and then run them through cold water to settle. Based on sports medicine statistics, protection provided by boil-and-bite is far lower than dentist provided custom-fitted mouthguards. Boil-and-bite mouthguards tend to have lower durability and will gradually deform with wear and tear, losing its ability to properly absorb and diffuse impact. Decreasing fit will also result in unintended impact between the mouthguard and teeth. Compared to custom-fitted mouthguards, boil-and-bite types are generally less comfortable to wear.

Stock/One size fits all: Over-the-counter stock mouthguards are the cheapest option conveniently available online and at most sporting goods retailers. They come in standard/generalized sizes and they almost never fit anyone’s teeth properly. They are the least comfortable and tend to be on the stiff side. Due to their poor fit, they are also known to interfere with breathing. Studies have shown that stock mouthguards provide the least protection against any injury. With poor fit and rigid materials, stock mouthguards have also caused unintended injuries to teeth and gums.

How are dentist-provided sports mouthguards different?

At Longwood dental clinic, our custom-fitted sports mouthguards are made from food grade EVA materials that are both durable and environmentally friendly, and approved by the Taiwan Food and Drug Administration. These sports mouthguard materials have been continuously improved for fit, resilience and durability, optimal thickness, shock absorption and impact diffusion qualities based on years of collaborative sports dentistry research and clinical trials with dental schools and sports medicine colleges.

Adults and teenagers of all ages are recommended to wear a custom-fitted mouthguard when participating in any sport or recreational activity that poses a risk of orofacial injuries. Your dentist will examine your oral conditions and custom make a thermoformed sports mouthguard based on your unique dental conditions and specific sporting needs. Based on sports dentistry statistics, the thinnest custom-fitted sports mouthguards provide twice the protection of boil-and-bite mouthguards and the thickest custom-fitted mouthguards provide over ten times the protection of boil-and-bite mouthguards.

If you are currently receiving orthodontic treatment (braces) or are wearing dental retainers, it is strongly recommended that you wear a custom-fitted mouthguard for sports activities and never use your braces, aligners (Invisalign), retainers, or dental trays as a sports mouthguard.

If you need a sports mouthguard or have any questions about them, we recommend that you make an appointment with a dentist, who can answer any question you have and provide you with the best dental protection for your sporting needs.  

Professional athletes across the world wear them for a reason, and you should too. Do not let your teeth become your first line of defense.

Source: American Dental Association, Cleveland Clinic, National Athletic Trainers' Association, Academy for Sports Dentistry, Dear Doctor

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