Each year, nearly 5 million teeth are knocked out, with many of these incidents happening during participation in sporting events. In fact, the Journal of the American Dental Association reports that 13-39% of all dental injuries are sports related.
However, participating in sports is an important part of many people’s lives, and there are many benefits to it. Getting involved in a sport helps maintain health, foster friendships, and generally improve your quality of life, whether participating in little league baseball or peewee football, adult recreation leagues or professional sports, gymnastics, MMA or mountain biking. As a parent or athlete, you take precautions to guard against physical risks that come with the activity by putting on shin guards, helmets, pre-wrap, or pads. Luckily, your dentist can readily provide you with the safety equipment you need to protect yourself from dental injuries: a mouth guard.
Why Use a Mouth Guard?
Mouth guards are coverings worn over your teeth and are usually made out of various types of plastic, ranging in hardness, flexibility, and durability depending on their type and function. They are meant to soften the impact to your face and mouth when contact is made. This cushion helps lower the risk of broken teeth, as well as protecting your jaw, lips, and tongue from injury. Generally, they are only fit for your upper teeth, because they protrude more than your bottom teeth. If you have braces, your dentist will usually also fit you for a mouth guard for your lower teeth, to provide extra protection for the soft tissues of your mouth.
Even at an early age, mouth guards are an important part of a child’s sports uniform. During collision and contact sports like football or soccer, it is essential to protect your child’s mouth with a mouth guard. Even if you think your child will not experience high contact during their sport due to their age, accidents can still happen. Dental injuries occur even in non-contact sports like gymnastics or volleyball. This risk makes it critical to protect your child’s mouth with a mouth guard.
Types of Mouth Guards
Custom-made and fitted mouth guards are specially formed to fit your unique, individual mouth. They are designed and fitted for you by your dentist, and then made according to your dentist’s specific instructions in a dental office or dental laboratory. Your dentist designs your mouth guard by carefully making an impression of your teeth then your mouth guard is molded over this impression. These custom-made mouth guards are usually more expensive than generic mouth guards due to the extra time, skill, and higher quality material used. However, custom-made mouth guards are the most comfortable and provide the best protection.
If you cannot afford a custom-made mouth guard, it is still important to protect your teeth. In this case, it is best to purchase what is known as a “boil and bite” mouth guard. These mouth guards are more affordable than custom-made mouth guards but provide better protection than a stock mouth guard because they can be customized a bit more to your individual bite. Due to the thermoplastic material used to make them, boil and bite mouth guards soften when placed in hot water. Once the material is softened, you place it in your mouth over your top teeth and shape it around your teeth using the pressure from both your fingers and tongue. Once it returns to room temperature it is set in its new shape.
Unfortunately, custom and boil and bite mouth guards do not work as well for people in braces. However, it is still vitally important to protect your mouth from damage, and stock mouth protectors are a great alternative while you have braces. They are affordable, widely available and most importantly, they provide protection while still accommodating the constant movement of the teeth while a person is in braces. At Jungle Roots we provide this type of mouth guard to our orthodontic patients at no additional charge.
Just remember, an effective mouth guard should be comfortable and not restrict breathing or talking. It should be durable, easy to clean, resistant to tearing, and should not cause pain when you wear it. A custom mouth guard is far more effective than any other type, as they are specifically designed to fit your teeth and protect your mouth.
It is important to note that sports mouth guards should not be used for night guards. Night guards are mouth guards that are worn through the night to prevent clenching and grinding and are used every night for the entire time that you are sleeping. Wearing a sports mouth guard for this amount of time can actually have detrimental effects on your bite and teeth. As they are designed for a different purpose, wearing one at night may increase the time you have to wear braces or even cause you to need orthodontic care. Talk to your dentist about treatment options if you think you or your child are clenching or grinding your teeth at night.
Mouth Guards and Braces
If you have braces, it is especially important that you wear a mouth guard during any activity that carries risk for collision or contact. Trauma or impact to the mouth could severely injure your face or mouth, as well as cause damage to your brackets or other orthodontic appliances. Mouth guards provide a barrier between your braces and your cheeks or lips, which reduces injuries during sports. Your orthodontist or dentist will be able to help you figure out what type of mouth guard will give you the right level of protection for your activity. They can also help determine whether you need a mouth guard for only your top teeth or for your top and bottom teeth.
Along with remembering to wear your mouth guard during contact sports, it is important to remember to take out your retainers and removable appliances during these activities. If you have invisible braces, ask your orthodontist about whether or not you can keep your trays in place during physical activity. You may be able to keep them in place, along with a mouth guard, during sports activities.
Caring for your Mouth Guard
Your dentist or orthodontist will discuss with you the right time to replace your mouth guard. It is important to consult with them immediately if your mouth guard is ill-fitting, damaged, or starting to show signs of wear. If your mouth guard is not in good condition, it cannot properly protect your mouth during activity. Adolescents and children may need to replace mouth guards more frequently as their mouths and teeth grow and change over time.
In the meantime, it is important to care for your mouth guard by making sure that it is clean and in good repair. Before each use, rinse your mouth guard with cool water. After each use, clean it with cool water, mild soap or toothpaste, and a toothbrush. Make sure to store it in a clean container with holes for ventilation. The ventilation allows for air circulation which helps prevent damage. You will also need to protect your mouth guard from extreme temperatures to keep its shape from distorting or being damaged. It is wise to keep your mouth guard out of reach of any family pets if they are prone to chewing on things. Check your mouth guard regularly for signs of wear and damage and if it becomes uncomfortable, check with your dentist or orthodontist about replacing it. Lastly, during your routine check-ups, remember to bring your mouth guard in to your dentist or orthodontist for inspection. They will make sure that it is still functioning properly and may be able to clean it thoroughly for you.
At Jungle Roots, we take your dental health seriously and focus on prevention rather than treatment. That is why we recommend a custom mouth guard for anyone who participates in sports that may cause dental injury. We are happy to answer questions about various options and help you work out financial solutions so you and your child can have the best possible protection for your teeth.
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At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.
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