Mouth guards are devices worn over the teeth to protect them from injury. Unlike dental splints, which are orthodontic devices used to treat conditions such as teeth-grinding (bruxism), snoring and sleep apnea, mouth guards are used primarily to protect the teeth (and dental/orthodontic appliances) during athletic or recreational activities. Mouth guards should be comfortable, durable and easy to clean, and allow the wearer to breathe and speak normally.
Reasons for Mouth Guards
Anyone, whether child or adult, who engages in contact sports, such as football, hockey, boxing or lacrosse, or participates in any activity in which the mouth is vulnerable to injury, such as bicycling or skateboarding, is advised to wear a mouth guard.
The reason for wearing a mouth guard during such activities is protect the teeth, tongue, jaw, gums, and nerves. Without a mouth guard, anyone who is physically active has an increased risk of chipping, breaking or losing a tooth, injuring the soft tissue of the mouth, and damaging or even fracturing the jaw.
Mouth guards are especially helpful in protecting dental or orthodontic appliances. Braces and fixed bridge work can be damaged during sports activities, and require expensive repair or replacement. Even worse, a setback in treatment can occur as injuries heal, and equipment is repaired or refitted. Although it may seem contradictory, patients are advised to remove orthodontic retainers or headgear during sports.
Benefits of Custom-Made Mouth Guards
Although over-the-counter mouth guards are available, they are no substitute for individually designed, custom-made mouth guards manufactured in dental offices or professional laboratories. Although more expensive, they fit the patient's bite precisely, leaving less room for damage to teeth or hardware, and providing greater comfort. Also, because they have been specially created for the individual, they are unobtrusive during speech and never interfere with normal breathing.
Construction of Mouth Guards
There are several steps in creating a custom-made mouth guard. First, the dentist uses a malleable material to make an impression of the patient's teeth. Then, a mouth guard is molded over the impression. In most cases, a mouth guard covers only the upper teeth but, when necessary, particularly when the patient wears braces or other dental appliances on the lower jaw, a mouth guard is fashioned for the lower teeth.
Caring for Mouth Guards
Mouth guards, like other dental equipment, should be cared for properly to increase their longevity. They should always be rinsed with mouthwash or cold water, and cleaned with a toothbrush and toothpaste before and after each use. They should also be washed on occasion in cool soapy water, and rinsed and dried thoroughly. Mouth guards should be stored in containers with air holes, and kept away from heat. They should periodically be examined for wear, and brought to all regular dental visits to see if they need to be replaced.
- Medline Plus
- National Institutes of Health
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
- U.S. National Library of Medicine