As sports are getting started again after closures due to COVID, athletes are gearing up and getting ready to return to play. With several months of ‘No-Sports’ for so many athletes, the regular routine of packing your bag or locker with all the necessary protective gear has become unfamiliar. As an orthodontist, member of the Academy of Sports Dentistry, and former member of the Dental Team for the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks, I want to remind you of the importance of packing your mouthguard to protect your teeth. Injuries to teeth in contact sports are too common and a dental visit after tooth trauma can cost $10,000 - $15,000 per tooth in the most severe cases. Here are a few tips on mouthguards:
Since COVID, we are more aware of the spread of viruses and bacteria. Because your mouthguard goes in and out of your mouth, it has the potential to carry germs and even get you sick. Your mouthguard should be cleaned with either water and a small amount of dish soap or a toothbrush and toothpaste after each use. It should then be allowed to dry before it’s returned to the protective case. For an even deeper clean, you can let the mouthguard sit in hydrogen peroxide for 2-3 minutes. Be sure to rinse thoroughly with water and allow it to dry before storing it.
It’s important to inspect your mouthguard before use. Does it have any tears, holes, or jagged edges? Does it fit comfortably? Your mouthguard will perform poorly if it doesn’t fit well. It could be dangerous to wear a mouthguard that has degraded over time and use–preventing you from playing to your optimal ability and may even be a choking hazard. If you see any of these issues, it’s time to replace your mouthguard.
It’s important to know that a mouthguard works in a few important ways. It should separate your top and bottom teeth with a flexible material to absorb impact. It should cover the front of your teeth to spread out the force of impact and prevent a force on just one or two teeth. It should also have a smooth surface in order to protect your lips from hitting the sharp edges of your teeth. It should also fit comfortably and allow you to breathe and speak. A mouthguard with a poor fit will often fall out during impact and not provide any protective benefits.
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There are 3 basic types of mouthguards and each of the 3 have pros and cons:
For stock mouthguards, you chose the color, brand, style, or price that works. You simply put it in your mouth and the material surrounds your teeth and/ or separates your top teeth from your bottom teeth with a flexible material. There is no customization of the fit - either it fits or it doesn’t. These have the widest price range–from a few dollars to well over $50. They are generally inexpensive and easy to find at local sporting goods stores.
“Boil and Bite”
Using hot water, these mouthguards are softened and inserted into the mouth. While soft, they are shaped around the teeth to form a semi-custom fit. These mouthguards offer a better fit than stock mouthguards but using the hot water method is difficult and not guaranteed to improve the fit. There is a lot of variety in this category and they can be purchased in many different styles and colors online or from sporting goods stores or pro shops.
A custom mouthguard is made from either an impression or a 3D scan of the teeth. These mouthguards offer far and away the best fit, comfort, and protection but they generally cost more than a stock or boil and bite mouthguard. Costs can range from $99 - $500.
The customization process can either be done at home with an impression kit or at a dentist office or 3D scanning center. While they provide the highest level of performance, they would need to be remade if the athlete’s teeth undergo any significant changes (like braces or dental work such as crowns or implants).
Returning to sports is exciting and important for all athletes. COVID has reminded us how much we value our athletic pursuits. Be safe, play hard, and don’t forget your mouthguard!