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30 November 2023

Sports Dentistry: The Importance of Mouthguards in Protecting Your Smile

When participating in sports we undertake warm-up routines and stretching to reduce the risk of injury. We also ensure we have the right equipment for the sport. 

However, what can often be overlooked is the potential damage to your smile from a fall or physical blow to the mouth.

For many sporting activities, a mouthguard should be considered as important a piece of kit as any other item of protective gear. Sports dentistry recognizes the importance of mouthguards in protecting your smile from an athletics injury. 

Your dentist can advise you on the most suitable mouthguard to help protect your teeth when participating in sports.

Which Sports Require Mouthguards

Many sports are best played while wearing a mouthguard. You may think that a certain sport or activity is not particularly physical in nature and therefore does not require an additional piece of kit to protect the mouth. However, accidents happen and even a tumble can see an impact on the mouth that requires dental work.

The following are some examples of sports where wearing mouthguards is advisable:

  • Soccer
  • American football
  • Volleyball
  • Field hockey
  • Ice hockey
  • Cycling
  • Basketball
  • Boxing
  • Wrestling
  • Gymnastics

The phrase better to be safe than sorry is particularly apt when considering protecting your smile with a mouthguard when participating in a sporting activity.

Three Main Types of Mouthguards

1. Stock

This is the most readily available of the mouthguards. You will find them sold widely in drug stores and sporting goods stores. They come in three different sizes and fit over the top row of teeth. These are relatively inexpensive, but they have a downside. 

The limited range of sizes means they aren’t always a great fit. This can make them uncomfortable to wear, a point that may deter some people from wearing them. Ill-fitting mouthguards can also make it harder to talk and communicate with teammates during the match.

2. Boil-and-Bite

These mouthguards offer a better fit while still being a relatively inexpensive option. Rather than accepting the fit of what comes out of the box, these mouthguards are boiled on purchase. When they have softened you can bite down to create a more customized piece that fits over your upper row of teeth. When buying these mouthguards always make sure you read and follow the accompanying instructions.

3. Custom-Made

Sports dentistry can provide you with a custom-made mouthguard using a dental impression mold taken by your dentist. These mouthguards ensure the best fit, one which will offer more comfort when worn and reduce the risk of it being dislodged. They will cost a bit more, but they can often be included in dental insurance plans, and therefore it is worthwhile having a chat with your insurance providers.

Which Is Best for Sports?

All three mouthguard types can be worn to protect against sporting injuries. The stock and boil-and-bite options may be sufficient, especially if you are an occasional participant in sporting activities. 

If you take your athletics and sports a little more seriously you may want to consider a custom-made option as you could benefit from the additional comfort of a more precisely fitting guard for regular use.

Custom-made mouthguards are also often recommended outside of sports dentistry. Conditions that may harm teeth can be addressed by using them. The following are a couple of such conditions.

1. Bruxism

Also called teeth grinding, bruxism often occurs as we sleep. As well as damaging your teeth, bruxism can lead to jaw or tooth pain and sore gums. 

Mouthguards are used to keep the teeth apart. A custom-made option tends to be best, as an ill-fitting stock option can be uncomfortable since it may move around. This can make sleep difficult and may tempt you to remove the guard altogether.

While a boil-and-bite option will be better fitting, the nature of bruxism can see them become brittle and need more frequent replacing. However, you may be advised to try one of these first to see if it helps address bruxism before purchasing a pricier custom-made guard.

2. Sleep Apnea

Mouthguards may be considered to treat mild sleep apnea, a disorder that sees breathing pauses while you sleep. Without treatment, sleep apnea increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. The fatigue resulting from frequently waking for breath also places you at an increased risk of a traffic accident.

A custom-made mouthguard works to address sleep apnea by pushing the tongue and lower jaw forward. This helps keep the airways clear and prevents the blockage that causes the breathing pauses. The same type of guard can also be used to address snoring, one of the main symptoms of sleep apnea.

As custom-made mouthguards work to prevent sleep apnea and snoring by adjusting the position of the lower jaw and tongue, the stock and boil-and-bite options are not feasible as they will not alter anything that will help improve your breathing or address the vibrations that cause you to snore.

Looking After Mouthguards

Mouthguards need to be regularly cleaned to protect them and for reasons of hygiene when wearing them. This can include:

  • Rinsing with cold water before and after use. Mouthguards will start to warp and become ill-fitting if you rinse with hot water.
  • Using a toothbrush to clean with toothpaste following each use
  • Brushing your teeth and flossing before using it.
  • Protecting it between uses by storing it in a hard container
  • Regularly checking for damage and any holes that could signal time for a replacement
  • Taking it with you to dental appointments so your dentist can check it is still fine to use.

Final Thoughts

Mouthguards are important in protecting your smile from sporting impact injuries. Your dentist can advise you on the most suitable mouthguard. Bear in mind that mouthguards will need replacing every two or three years, possibly before if you notice any damage or signs of significant wear and tear.

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