When it comes to dental injuries in sports, prevention can be the best medicine. More than 2.6 million children under the age of 19 are treated in emergency rooms each year for sports and recreation-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of those injuries come from inadvertent blows to the face from balls, bats, hockey sticks and elbows. A mouth guard won’t stop that contact but it cushions the blows and redistributes the impact protecting teeth, tongue and gums when contact happens.
It’s never too early for young athletes to start using mouth guards. A survey commissioned by the American Association of Orthodontists found that 84 percent of children don’t wear mouth guards while playing organized sports because this protective equipment was not required. But the association also points out that the cost of a mouth guard is significantly less than the cost of dental repair. Athletes can choose from three types of mouth guards.
Dental professionals form custom mouth guards by making an impression of the athlete’s entire set of teeth. That impression is sent to a lab where the guard can be manufactured from heat-molded plastic. While these guards offer athletes a personalized fit, they’re also the most expensive mouth guard option.
Also called “boil and bite,” these mouth guards are boiled to soften and then form a custom fit in the athlete’s mouth as they harden. But the old boil and bites had a weakness. As the guard molded to the teeth, it did so in a thin layer resulting in a weaker mouth guard. The latest technologies offer fins of additional material in the channel of the guard that provide more material to mold to the teeth so protective qualities aren’t sacrificed. The latest guards also include features such as openings that allow for better speech and breathing.
With stock mouth guards, what you see is what you get. The mouth guard you get off the store shelf is the guard you’ll use in the game. They’re inexpensive but compared to custom and self-fit guards, they also have fewer protective qualities and offer the poorest fit.