What is a mouthguard?
A mouthguard is a thick, spongy shield that sits over your teeth, which is usually worn during sports and other activities that have a high risk of facial impact. Mouthguards can be helpful outside of sports too. You may need to use a specialised mouthguard for teeth grinding or jaw issues, sleep apnoea or snoring.
What are the risks of playing sport?
An injury can cause teeth to be broken, chipped or even lost, fracture the jaw, and cause soft tissue damage in the mouth. Dental trauma can also include damage to the lips and gums. According to the Australian Dental Association (ADA), roughly one-third of traumatic teeth injuries are sports-related. Roughly 50 per cent of children experience some form of dental injury, suggests Sports Medicine Association Australia. Injuries can be avoided by wearing a custom-fitted mouthguard every time you train.
How can mouthguards help?
When the lower part of your face suffers a direct impact the force can travel through your teeth, jaw, and even the upper part of your skull. This can increase the risk of injuries such as a fracture to your front teeth and even concussions. Strikes to your lower jaw may cause your jaw to slam shut and damage both rows of teeth. Mouthguards can act as a buffer for these kinds of impacts. The spongy material can absorb some of the shock and lessen the force applied to your teeth, jaw, and skull.
When to wear a mouthguard
Mouthguards should be worn throughout training and games. It is best to wear a mouthguard whenever there is a risk of impact to your face. The Australian Dental Association and Sports Medicine Australia recommend that even if the sport you play isn’t considered a contact sport you should wear a mouthguard every time you’re on the field.
How to choose the right mouthguard
There are two main options when it comes to mouthguards:
Custom-fitted mouthguards are constructed and fitted by a dental professional to provide the best protection for your teeth. The dentist will take an impression of your teeth and make a plaster model to get the best possible fit. A mouthguard must be at least four millimetres thick, with a cushioning effect to protect against impacts, fitting closely enough that it is still possible to talk.
Self-fitted mouthguards that are sold over-the-counter are fitted by submerging them in hot water then biting into the mouthguard so it takes the shape of the teeth and mouth. It can be more uncomfortable and less effective because it hasn’t been fit to the person’s bite and jaw, however, a boil-and-bite mouthguard is better than no mouthguard at all. Will a mouthguard effect how I play?
Custom-fit mouthguards have shown to have no effect on athletic performance. Most research shows that there is no negative impact on performance or strength.
There are some studies that report negative effects when wearing boil-and-bite mouthguards due to breathing difficulties or discomfort. The culprit in these cases is often poor fit, which is another reason to invest in a custom-made mouthguard.
It is best to rinse a mouthguard in soap and warm water, then allow to air-dry after use, and occasionally use mouthwash to disinfect it. When the mouthguard is not in use, it should be kept in a cool place in a plastic container with a vent that allows air circulation.
It is important to bring the mouthguard home after every game. If it is left in the car it can overheat and warp the mouthguard’s shape, making it useless.
Many children experience some form of dental injury when playing a sport. If your child is wary of wearing a mouthguard it can help to point out popular or personal sports idols who wear one. Mouthguards can prevent dental injuries at any age so it is an important thing for all sports players to consider.