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Protect Your Child's Smile: The Importance of Mouth Guards


By Sarah McNaughton

Keeping children's brains and bodies safe during sports is a top priority, which is why close attention is paid to helmets and pads. But what about children's mouths? April is National Facial Protection Month, which makes it an excellent time to take steps to protect your kid's mouth from unnecessary injury with an affordable but often overlooked device: the mouth guard.

Young female soccer player about to kick ball

Between 10 and 39 percent of all children's dental injuries are related to sports accidents, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), most of which can be prevented by the use of a simple mouth guard. Yet the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) found that 67 percent of parents admitted that their kids don't wear mouth guards during organized sports.

Mouth guards absorb the energy caused by impact and can prevent or reduce injury to the teeth, jaw, lips, cheeks and tongue. Mouth guards are especially effective in reducing the risk of losing a tooth - treatment for which can be costly over a lifetime, ranging between $5,000 and $20,000, according to the AAPD.

So why don't more kids wear mouth guards? The AAO found that 84 percent of children don't wear mouth guards during organized sports because they aren't required to wear them. But you can be proactive and protect your child from significant dental trauma that may also affect their appearance and self-confidence.

It's important for kids to wear their mouth guards during both practice and games. Not only does this help them become more comfortable with wearing the mouth guard, but 62 percent of sports-related injuries occur during practice, according to Safe Kids Worldwide .

Types of Mouth Guards

Ask your dentist to recommend the best type of mouth guard for your child, especially if he or she has braces or other orthodontic devices that could cause further injury and/or be damaged upon impact. There are three main types of mouth guards:

  • Custom mouth guards: Custom-fitted mouth guards are made by a dentist. An impression is taken of the mouth and then plastic is molded around the impression. Custom-made mouth guards provide the best protection and are the most comfortable to wear because they fit precisely in the mouth and are more likely to stay in place . Custom mouth guards are more expensive than other options, however, ranging between $60 and $285 . 
  • "Boil and bite" mouth guards: Also known as self-adapted mouth guards, these mouth guards are molded to the mouth by boiling the guard in water and then allowing the wearer to bite down on the heated plastic. Although these offer a somewhat customized fit, boil and bite mouth guards are not as strong as custom mouth guards and do have a chance of bite-through problems. Self-adapted mouth guards are moderately priced. 
  • Stock mouth guards: Stock mouth guards offer basic protection by fitting loosely over the teeth. Although they are the most affordable option, these guards can make it difficult to breathe or speak because teeth must be clenched to keep the mouth guard in place. 

Caring for Mouth Guards

Mouth guards should be checked regularly for any changes or wear to see if they need to be replaced. They should be washed before and after use with toothpaste or mouthwash and a soft-bristle brush in order to avoid buildup of bacteria that could cause decay or halitosis or infections of the mouth. They should also be stored in a clean, sturdy container and kept out of extreme heat and the sun.  [For more about the care of mouth guards, click here]

In what sports should mouth guards be worn?

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a sports mouth guard for all youth competition, regardless of age. The American Dental Association recommends mouth guards for the following sports:



Martial Arts







Water Polo





Weight Lifting

Discus Throwing

Ice Hockey

Shot Putting



Field Hockey







Updated February 15, 2017