Comprehensive Guide to Mouth Guards in Dentistry (2024)

Mouth guards are protective coverings worn over teeth to prevent injury and damage. Dentists recommend them for various reasons such as protection during sports or for teeth grinding. They can also be used to address jaw problems, snoring, or sleep apnea—a condition where breathing pauses during sleep.

Most mouthguards fit over the upper teeth, but in some cases, a dentist might recommend one for the lower teeth. There are many types of mouth guards available, suitable for both children and adults.

The earliest recorded use of mouth guards dates back to the sport of boxing. In the 1920s, professional boxing became the first sport to require mouth guards, marking the beginning of their formalized use in athletic activities.

The American Dental Association (ADA) has been a significant advocate for mouthguards, particularly in American football. In 1962, the ADA’s advocacy led to the mandating of mouth guards for US high school football players, significantly reducing orofacial injuries. This mandate set a precedent, and the use of mouth guards in sports began to gain broader acceptance.

Today, the US National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) mandates mouth guards for four sports: ice hockey, lacrosse, field hockey, and football. However, the ADA recommends mouth guards for 29 sports and exercise activities, recognizing their importance in preventing dental injuries. Studies on mouthguard effectiveness consistently show that wearing a mouthguard significantly reduces the risk of fractured teeth and head acceleration during impact.

Comprehensive Guide to Mouth Guards in Dentistry (1)

Mouth guards are essential for protecting teeth in various situations and come in three main types, each serving different purposes.

Stock Mouth Guards

Are pre-formed and ready to wear straight out of the box. They are inexpensive and can be purchased at most sporting goods stores and department stores. However, stock mouth guards have significant drawbacks. Their fit cannot be adjusted, making them bulky and uncomfortable. They often make breathing and talking difficult and provide minimal protection, which is why dentists do not typically recommend them.

Boil-and-Bite Mouth Guards

Are also available at sporting goods stores, and offer a better fit than stock mouth guards. Made from thermoplastic material, these mouth guards are softened in hot water and then molded around the teeth. While they offer an improved fit compared to stock mouth guards, they still fall short in terms of protection and comfort when compared to custom-made options.

Custom-made Mouth Guards

Are designed and crafted by a dentist to fit your exact dental anatomy. The process involves making an impression of your teeth, over which a mouthguard is then molded using a special material. This meticulous process ensures that the mouthguard fits perfectly, providing the highest level of comfort and protection. Custom-made mouth guards are particularly effective for preventing damage from teeth grinding (bruxism) and sports-related injuries. They are also a common first-line treatment for sleep apnea, offering effective protection that can be used with or without a CPAP machine. These mouth guards, however, tend to be more expensive than store-bought options, but they are more durable and provide superior protection.

Mouth guards are essential for protecting teeth and oral structures in several contexts.

Mouth guards for Clenching and Grinding:

Adults and children who grind or clench their teeth, a condition known as bruxism, can benefit significantly from a mouth guard. These appliances, often referred to as nocturnal bite plates or bite splints, help prevent tooth damage by positioning the jaw to reduce the harmful effects of clenching and grinding. These guards can also relax the jaw muscles, alleviating pain associated with these habits. While they are typically worn at night, they can also be used during the day if necessary.

Dental mouth guards for braces:

For individuals with braces or other fixed dental appliances, mouth guards are crucial for protecting orthodontic work from injury. A properly fitted mouthguard can prevent damage to braces and other fixed dental appliances, which is particularly important during contact sports or any activities that pose a risk of facial injury. It’s important to consult with a dentist or orthodontist to determine the best type of mouthguard for your specific dental setup. Note that orthodontic retainers or other removable appliances should not be worn during contact sports or high-risk activities, although Invisalign trays can sometimes be used in conjunction with a mouthguard. Always check with your dentist if you’re using Invisalign and participating in sports.

Bruxism mouth guards:

Bruxism involves clenching, grinding, or gnashing teeth, which can lead to significant tooth damage. Mouth guards designed for bruxism protect teeth from these harmful habits. Most bruxism occurs during sleep, so these mouth guards are typically worn at night, but they can also be used during the day if grinding or clenching occurs while awake.

Sports Uses of Mouth Guards

Comprehensive Guide to Mouth Guards in Dentistry (2)

Mouth guards are essential protective gear for athletes, significantly reducing the risk of oral injuries during physical activities.

Mouth Guards for General Sports:

Whether you participate in contact sports like boxing, wrestling, soccer, basketball, hockey, or football, using a mouth guard can greatly decrease the likelihood of sustaining injuries such as chipped or knocked-out teeth. Mouth guards protect not only the teeth but also the lips, tongue, and soft tissues of the mouth from cuts and bruises.

Boxing Mouth Guards:

In boxing, where facial impacts are common, a mouthguard is crucial for preventing injuries to the teeth, lips, and mouth. Boxing mouth guards can come in various forms: stock, boil-and-bite, or custom-made. Regardless of the type, they provide essential protection against blows to the face.

Football Mouth Guards:

For football players, mouth guards are vital in protecting against oral injuries on the field. Some studies suggest that mouth guards might also help in reducing the severity of sports-related concussions by absorbing and dispersing impact forces. Like boxing, football players can choose from stock, boil-and-bite, or custom-made guards.

Medical-Related Uses of Mouth Guards

Mouth guards are also valuable tools for managing medical conditions, offering relief, and improving the quality of sleep for many individuals.

Mouth Guards for Sleep Apnea:

Sleep apnea is a condition characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. Custom-made mouth guards for sleep apnea help by shifting and repositioning the jaw to keep the airway open. These mouth guards can be used alone or in conjunction with a CPAP machine (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure), enhancing the effectiveness of sleep apnea treatment. For optimal results, it’s typically necessary to wear the mouthguard every night.

Snoring Mouth Guards:

Chronic snoring often occurs when the tongue and tissues in the throat relax too much, partially obstructing the airway. A snoring mouthguard works similarly to a sleep apnea mouthguard by repositioning the jaw to maintain an open airway, preventing tissue relaxation. Custom-made snoring mouth guards are recommended because they provide a tailored fit that maximizes comfort and effectiveness.

Mouth guards for TMJ Disorders:

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders affect the jaw joints and surrounding muscles, causing pain, headaches, and difficulty with jaw movement. Mouth guards can help alleviate TMJ symptoms by preventing teeth grinding and clenching, which can exacerbate the condition. While research on the effectiveness of mouth guards for TMJ is mixed, many doctors recommend custom-made mouth guards for patients with TMJ.

How do I get a custom mouth guard?

If you need a custom mouth guard, a dentist will take dental impressions using dental putty or a digital handheld wand. These impressions are sent to a dental lab where a technician fabricates a mouth guard tailored to the anatomy of your teeth. This process can take up to two weeks.

How often should I wear a mouth guard?

The frequency of wearing a mouth guard depends on its purpose. For contact sports, you should wear it during all practices and games. If the mouth guard is for treating teeth grinding, snoring, or sleep apnea, it should be worn every night while you sleep. Consult your healthcare provider if you are unsure about the specific usage requirements for your mouth guard.

Are there side effects of wearing a mouth guard?

It can take time to adjust to wearing a mouth guard. Ill-fitting mouth guards can cause soreness in the teeth, gums, or jaw. Custom-made mouth guards generally provide more comfort compared to store-bought ones. A dentist can make necessary adjustments to ensure a proper fit.

How long do mouth guards last?

A custom-made mouth guard can last several years with proper care, though some may need to be replaced more frequently. Store-bought mouth guards are less durable and might need replacing a few times a year. Children and teens may need to replace their mouth guards more often due to growth and development.

How do I care for a mouth guard?

To care for your mouth guard, avoid exposing it to extreme heat, such as direct sunlight or hot water, to prevent warping. Store it in a sturdy, vented plastic case when not in use. Clean it with cool water and a brush with mild soap after each use, and let it air dry. Regularly check for wear and bring it to dental checkups for inspection.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

You should contact your healthcare provider if you need recommendations for mouth guards for contact sports, or if you experience wear and tear from teeth grinding, TMJ disorder symptoms (such as jaw pain, chronic headaches, or facial pain), or symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (such as daytime fatigue, headaches, irritability, or gasping for air during sleep).

Does insurance cover the cost of mouth guards?

Some dental insurance plans cover part or all of the cost for custom-fitted mouth guards. However, policies vary, so it is essential to check with your provider. Additionally, some dental offices offer payment plans, and you can use health savings account funds to pay for both custom-fitted and store-bought mouth guards.

Comprehensive Guide to Mouth Guards in Dentistry (2024)
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