Protect your smile

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Protecting your teeth by wearing a mouth guard.

With the rugby season well under way and Six Nations Championships just around the corner, it seems a good time to remind our readers about the benefits of wearing a proper mouth guard.

It is a sad fact that too many people playing sports – at all levels – are losing teeth unnecessarily. In many cases, this is because they don’t use a mouth guard – or, worse still, are wearing one that doesn’t fit properly. As you would expect, rugby shows high levels of dental trauma, but so does basketball (36%), and martial arts sports (32%). Perhaps surprisingly, hockey has one of the lowest incidence (11.5%) – but this is almost certainly due to a high proportion of players wearing mouth guards, plus heightened awareness of the potential for dental injuries.

When would I need a mouth guard?

A professionally made mouth guard should be worn whenever you play sport that involves physical contact or moving objects. This includes: cricket, hockey and football – which can cause broken and damaged teeth; and Rugby, American football and boxing – which can also cause broken or dislocated jaws. A mouth guard will help protect against these happening.

What should you consider when choosing a mouth guard?

  • It should be comfortable, well-fitting and not prone to dislodging on impact.
  • It should provide adequate thickness of material (4mm) over vulnerable areas to reduce impact forces.
  • When biting lightly on the mouth guard, large areas of its biting surface should be in contact with the teeth in the opposing jaw to reduce the risk of jaw fracture.

What type of mouth guards are there?

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In selecting a mouth guard, there are two basic options to choose from: the “over the counter” mouth guards and the custom-fitted mouth guards.

The first type, available at many sporting goods stores, comes in a limited range of sizes, and an unknown range of quality. These over the counter mouth guards are created out of a thinner and more pliable plastic that is meant to be more suitable to a wider range of people. It’s the least expensive option, offering a minimal level of protection that’s probably better than nothing.

There are also ones that you can mould yourself to fit your mouth, so called “boil and bite” guards. These are designed to be immersed in hot water, and then formed in the mouth using finger, tongue and bite pressure. If it can be made to fit adequately, it’s probably better than the first type — though it often lacks proper extensions, and fails to cover the back teeth. Also, upon impact, the rubber-like material will distort and not offer as much protection as you would like to have.

The second type is custom-made for your mouth. To fabricate this mouth guard, we first make a model of the teeth, and then mould the protector to fit just right. Made from tough, high-quality material, it’s designed to cover all teeth, back and front, without being excessively bulky. It can even be made to accommodate growing teeth and jaws. And, it’s reasonable in cost.

How do I look after my mouthguard?

It is important to look after the mouth guard to ensure its longevity and continued effectiveness. It should be rinsed with cold water or a mouth wash before and after each use and/or cleaned with a toothbrush. Occasionally the mouth guard should be washed more thoroughly in cool, soapy water or with special cleaning tablets and rinsed thoroughly. It should be placed in a firm, perforated container to store or transport it. This permits air circulation and helps to prevent damage.

How often will I need to replace my mouth guard? 

No mouth guard lasts forever and with use, the biting surface may flatten, wear or become thin over the biting edges of the front teeth, allowing the player to bite through the plastic during use. Once damaged, the mouth guard may fail in its ‘duty’ to protect. The mouth guard should also be inspected regularly to check its fit; this is particularly important for children who are still growing and for those who wear orthodontic braces.

Minna Miettinen