Everything to Know About Sports Mouthguards 

Person with a ponytail jumping rope in a boxing gym

According to the American Dental Association, sports injuries cause about one-third of dental emergencies. Some studies estimate that a person is 60 times more likely to suffer oral trauma if they don’t wear a mouthguard while playing sports. And, if you’ve started orthodontic treatment, your teeth are especially vulnerable. 

Mouthguards protect your teeth from a sudden impact by redistributing force. This cushions intraoral tissues, prevents fractures, root damage and tooth loss, and protects orthodontic brackets and wires. Additionally, mouthguards provide shock absorption, which minimizes trauma to the jaw and neck in the event of a significant hit. 

Types of Mouthguards 

Mouthguards are available in several forms: generic, pre-formed varieties that are ready for use at purchase, over-the-counter moldable varieties that you shape at home, and specialist-fitted varieties that are customized to the individual. More customized mouthguards offer better protection at a higher cost. 

Before deciding on which type to use, check your sport’s regulations. Sometimes, a team’s insurance will only cover injuries sustained if the player wears a dentist-created mouthguard. 

For most sports, an upper guard alone is suitable as its protrusion naturally protects the lower jaw. However, high-contact sports, such as wrestling, can require both an upper and lower mouthpiece. 

Stock Guards

Stock mouthguards are pre-formed and are available off the shelf in supermarkets and pharmacies. These are the most inexpensive option but also the least effective. They are often bulky and can make breathing and speaking uncomfortable or difficult. Their material also is less shock absorbent than other varieties. 

Stock guards often are not an option for athletes wearing braces because brackets and wires will affect the fit. These guards are not designed to handle the bulk of braces, so they will likely be too tight. Wearing a mouthguard that exerts too much pressure on your braces and teeth can be more dangerous than not wearing one at all. If your mouthguard feels tight, or you have to force it over your teeth, you shouldn’t wear it. 

Moldable Mouthguards

Boil-and-bite mouthguards are made of a thermoplastic material that is heat activated. Once softened (usually in hot water), you can customize the fit by placing them over the teeth and applying pressure. Boil-and-bite guards are reasonably inexpensive and are available at most sporting goods stores. They provide a better fit than stock mouthguards but are also unsuitable for patients wearing braces. 

Some over-the-counter mouthguards in sporting goods are designed specifically for athletes wearing braces. These include well-known brands like ShockDoctor, Gladiator, and Vettex. They are more expensive but offer better protection than standard guards.

Custom-Fitted Mouthguards

Mouthguards molded by a dental professional from bite impressions offer the best protection, quality, and comfort. They cost much more than store-bought options, but for orthodontic patients who are highly involved in contact sports, they can save a lot of time and money on damaged teeth or broken appliances. 

Orthodontic patients often benefit most from mouthguards designed using high-grade silicone instead of thermoplastic. This material helps cushion the lips and keeps them from bumping against your teeth and braces. The metal brackets can otherwise shred your gums and even break through your lip. Even for Invisalign patients, the soft tissue in your mouth is more susceptible to damage if something hits you in the face. 

In many cases, an orthodontist can design a mouthguard that anticipates some of your tooth movement to allow you to wear it longer before it needs to be redesigned and replaced. You should bring your custom guard to each checkup so your orthodontist can ensure it continues to fit properly. 

When To Wear Your Mouthguard

Wearing a protective mouthguard is essential for most athletes, especially those playing contact sports where blows to the head are possible. These include football, boxing, and hockey. However, other types of athletes benefit from mouthguards, such as those involved in soccer, volleyball, and basketball. It only takes a small amount of pressure to cause injury to your mouth or damage your braces. 

Invisalign braces do not double as a mouthguard in contact sports. They are thinner than mouthguards and do not provide the protection needed. You can remove your Invisalign and use a stock or custom mouthguard while playing a sport. You will not be able to use a boil-and-bite mouthguard as your teeth are still moving. If you are in a non-contact or limited-contact sport, you should continue wearing your Invisalign while playing.

Sometimes, you can wear a mouthguard with functional orthodontic appliances such as a palatal expander. It will need to be trimmed and adjusted around the expander to allow it to fit correctly.

Caring for Your Mouthguard 

Like other oral care routines, cleaning your mouthguard should become a habit. A mouthguard will trap bacteria and can quickly become unsanitary. Properly cleaning and storing your mouthguard will enhance its longevity and efficacy. 

  • Clean your mouthguard before and after using it. You can brush it with fluoride-based toothpaste or use mild soap and water. 
  • Store your mouthguard in a ventilated container to prevent bacteria from accumulating.
  • Check your mouthguard for cracks or damage before using it. If the mouthguard is damaged, it won’t be able to protect your teeth adequately. 
  • Do not soak your mouthguard in hot water or leave it in the sun.

Replacing Your Mouthguard 

The longevity of your mouthguard will depend on how often you use it and how much your teeth shift as part of your orthodontic treatment. As readjustments are a regular feature of orthodontic treatment, you might require several iterations of a mouthguard before your care is complete. 

Replace your mouthguard immediately if it starts to feel different in your mouth or it becomes uncomfortable to wear. Bring your current mouthguard to each orthodontic checkup so a professional can determine whether it is still fitting properly. 

Are you ready to take the next step toward improving your overall health and smile? Start by contacting us today to schedule a consultation with one of our board-certified orthodontists.


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