Mouthguards increase the number and intensity of mouth cuts and abrasions and should be replaced every two weeks or sooner if they become sharp and jagged, urge researchers at Oklahoma State University.1
The 2009 study found that mouth guards expose an athlete to an increased chance of infection due to the bacteria, yeast, and fungi that they routinely collect.Researchers stress that even with the increase in oral lesions, mouthguards 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 mouthguard is used and how often it is cleaned needs to be revised."
- Replace reguarly or when mouthguard becomes sharp or jagged. A mouthguard 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 mouthguards may cause exercise-induced asthma and allergies, mouthguards should be replaced whenever an athlete develops any type of oral lesion (mouth sore) or respiratory distress;
- Sanitize daily. Because mouthguards have a natural ability to become a breeding ground for bacteria, fungi, and mold, they should be soaked between uses in a commercially available antimicrobial denture-cleansing solution; 2 and
- Ongoing oral exams. Athletes' mouths should be examined on an ongoing basis while they are using mouthguards.
Sixty-two collegiate football players' mouths were examined pre-season and post-season. The players selected their own mouthguards, either a "boil and bite" device or a custom-made device. At pre-season testing, 75 percent of the players had oral lesions located in three different areas of the mouth (gums, cheek, and roof of mouth). By the end of the season, 96 percent of the participants had oral lesions not only in the same three areas of the mouth, but also on the tongue.
"We saw not only an overall increase in the number of lesions, but also a wider distribution," explains author Richard T. Glass, DDS, PhD and professor at the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences. "While there might be other contributing factors to the oral lesions, the percentage increase and the specific locations of the oral lesions, compared with other studies done of the general population, indicated that mouthguards have a significant negative impact on the mouth."
"This study stresses the importance of informing athletes of the danger of not properly taking care of a mouthguard. A mouthguard will do your mouth good only if you keep it in good shape," adds Glass.
1. Glass RT, et. al, Protective Athletic Mouthguards: Do They Cause Harm? Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach. 2009. 1 (5); 411-415.
2. Glass RT, Conrad RS, Kohler GA, Warren AJ, Bullard JW. Microbiota Found in Protective Athletic Mouthguards. Sports Health 2011 (http://sph.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/03/29/1941738111404869.abstrac... (accessed April 9, 2011).
Created August 25, 2009; updated and revised April 9, 2011