A mouth guard is a piece of soft plastic shaped to fit inside the mouth, protecting the lips, cheeks, tongue and teeth and the jaw when they are hit by large object - like a ball, or someone's elbow or head.
There are 3 main types of mouth guards:
- Stock. The least expensive, stock type mouth guards cost about $2 and come in three sizes: small, medium and large. You get what you pay for in terms of fit. Some users complain that they are too wide in the back, making it harder to talk.
- Boil and Bite. A semi-custom fit can be made using a "boil and bite" model mouth guard. Hot water is used to soften the plastic and your child then bites into the guard, molding it to his or her teeth. This type of mouth guard sells for between $5 and $15 and offers very good protection.
- Custom. A dentist or orthodontist makes the best fitting mouth guards in a dental office. Not surprisingly, this kind of mouth guard is the most expensive of the three, costing between $35 and $65. Custom mouth guards are the best option if your child plays a number of sports each year or plays sports with continuous activity, like basketball or soccer, and is advised for a child with braces so that the mouth guard won't interfere with treatment (for more on mouth guards for children with braces, click here). Once a child reaches age 13 or 14, a custom fitted mouth guard should generally continue to fit for as long as needed.
Do not protect against concussion
Mouth guards, regardless of type, help prevent injury to the mouth, teeth, lips, cheeks and tongue. Mouth guards worn by players with braces may even prevent injury to another player caused by contact with the braces. They also cushion blows that might cause jaw fractures.
Although mouth guards have been shown to be effective in preventing dental and orofacial injury, there is currently no evidence that standard or fitted mouth guards decrease the rate or severity of concussions in athletes. The bulk of the evidence indicating a potential protective effect of mouth guards on concussion incidence has been based on a limited case series studies and retrospective, non-randomized, cross-sectional surveys. There is also evidence that mouth guard use does not result in any difference in neurocognitive test performance after concussion.
Require frequent replacement and sanitization
A study in Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach found that mouth guards may increase the number and intensity of mouth cuts and abrasions, exposing an athlete to an increased chance of infection due to the bacteria, yeast, and fungi that mouth guards routinely collect.
Researchers stress that even with the increase in oral lesions,mouth guards are still an important piece of safety equipment for contact sports. "By no means should the value of a mouth guard be discounted," Glass emphasizes. "The protection they do offer teeth during contact sports is important. However, the length of time that a mouth guard is used and how often it is cleaned needs to be revised."
As a result, experts now recommend four safety steps:
- Replace regularly or when mouth guard becomes sharp or jagged. A mouth guard should be replaced as soon as it becomes distorted or develops sharp jagged edges or after 14 days of regular use, whichever comes first;
- Replace if oral irritation or ulcer. Because the molds from mouth guards may cause exercise-induced asthma and allergies, mouth guards should be replaced whenever an athlete develops any type of oral lesion (mouth sore) or respiratory distress;
- Sanitize daily. Because mouth guards have a natural ability to become a breeding ground for bacteria, fungi, and mold, they should be sanitized on a daily basis using a commercially available antimicrobial denture-cleansing solution; and
- Have regular oral exams. Athletes' mouths should be examined on an ongoing basis while they are using mouth guards.
Posted February 26, 2012