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Mouth Guards – Fact Sheet

mouth-guardAnyone who participates in sports, whether for pleasure, in youth or adult leagues, or even on a professional level – knows that losing isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a player; sustaining a serious injury is, particularly when that injury is preventable

That’s why it’s so important for adults and children who are active in sports to wear protective gear such as helmets, shin guards, knee and elbow pads, and mouth guards. Wearing a mouth guard can prevent serious injury and save a lot of pain. Each year this simple safety measure prevents more than 200,000 oral injuries among athletes.

Mouth Guards Aren’t Mandatory in Most Sports. Why Are They Important?

  • Facial Injuries can be sustained in nearly every game, from “contact” sports such as football and soccer, to “non-contact” sports like baseball, basketball, gymnastics, bicycling or skateboarding. Damage to the teeth, lips, tongue and jaws are frequent occurrences in both children and adults. General dentists see more injuries to the mouth as a result of playing sports than from almost any other single cause. A survey conducted by the University of Texas found nearly 5 percent of male college athletes who played football, basketball, soccer, volleyball, baseball, ice hockey and lacrosse without wearing a mouth guard sustained some oral injury. That’s more than 2,000 injuries in just a single year at the college level alone! It’s at the junior high, high school, community and amateur levels that most injuries occur.
  • Mouth Guards can prevent serious injuries such as concussions, fractured jaws and teeth, severe cuts to the cheek and tongue (often requiring surgery for repair), and traumatic damage to the roots and bone that hold teeth in place.
  • Wearing a mouth guard is the best way to prevent many oral and facial injuries. Mouth guards are designed to help cushion the mouth, teeth and jaw, preventing significant damage where sports injuries are most prevalent. While mouth guards are not required equipment in many sports, wearing one is a sensible precaution for athletes of any age and ability.

What Should I Know Before Choosing a Mouth Guard?

Your CDA dentist can determine what appliances (braces, retainers, bridgework, dentures) would be affected by wearing a mouth guard. Because growth spurts occur in the mouth just as they do elsewhere in the body, it’s especially important for children’s mouths to be evaluated by a dentist before selecting a mouth guard. Your child’s mouth should be checked by the dentist to ensure that, as your child’s teeth and jaws change, the mouth guard continues to fit properly and to provide full protection.

The sports you play. Different sports involve different levels of risk and potential injury. With the help of your CDA dentist, you can select the right type of mouth guard for you or your child’s sport of choice.

What are the Different Types of Mouth Guards?

All mouth guards are not created equal. Depending upon the design and materials used, mouthpieces will vary in protection, ease of maintenance and longevity. Listed below are several types of Mouth Guards. Consult your dentist before you make a decision.

  • Custom-Made. Formed by your dentist from a cast model of your teeth, these custom-made guards are designed to cover all the teeth. These mouth guards can cushion falls and blows to the chin. Custom-made Mouth guards also provide the best protection against concussions. Custom-made mouth guards may be slightly more expensive than commercially produced mouthpieces, but they offer the best possible fit and protection.
  • Mouth-Formed. Mouth-formed or “boil and bite” mouthpieces also should be fitted by your dentist. These guards are generally made of acrylic gel or thermoplastic materials shaped to fit the contours of your teeth. If you or your child wear braces or fixed dental appliances, it is essential that your mouth-formed guard be custom-fitted by your dentist.
  • Ready-Made. Commercially produced, off-the-shelf mouth guards are the least expensive, but also the least comfortable and the least effective protective mouthpieces. These rubber or polyvinyl pre-formed guards can be purchased at most sporting goods stores.

What Can I Do To Make My Mouth Guard Last?

Like all sports equipment, proper care will make any mouth guard last longer. Keep your mouthpiece in top shape by rinsing it with soap and water or mouthwash after each use and allowing it to air-dry. With proper care, a mouth guard should last the length of a season. The condition of the mouth guard should be checked before each use, particularly if the athlete has a tendency to chew on it.

In What Sports Would Wearing a Mouth Guard be a Safe Play?

There a number of sports in which wearing a mouth guard can protect athletes from potentially painful and damaging injuries. Here’s a list of activities resulting in frequent injuries to the mouth, teeth, tongue and jaw:

  • Acrobatics – Baseball
  • Basketball – Bicycling
  • Boxing – Diving
  • Field Hockey – Football
  • Gymnastics – Hand Ball
  • Ice Hockey – Lacrosse
  • Martial Arts – Racquetball
  • Rollerblading – Rollerskating
  • Skateboarding – Skiing
  • Soccer – Softball – Squash
  • Surfing – Volleyball
  • Water Polo – Weightlifting
  • Wrestling – Scooter Riding

If you or your children participate in any of these sports or activities, make sure that you are informed about the most common oral injuries that can occur during play, and take appropriate steps to be protected. Always wear a mouth guard when you play. Do not wear removable appliances (retainers, bridges, or complete or partial dentures) when playing sports.

A Win/Win Strategy for Every Athlete

Staying in shape – and intact – is an integral part of an overall strategy for all sports. Protecting against injuries will keep you in the game. Keep your competitive edge. Protect both your general and oral health for your best performance on and off the field.

Copyright 2001, California Dental Association, All Rights Reserved

headshot of dr eric vanek d.d.s

Dr. Eric Vanek, d.d.s

Eric has been a practicing dental surgeon for over 20 years and is the owner of Vanek Dentistry, a family dental practice in Costa Mesa, CA.

Published September 11, 2014. Updated December 15, 2023