What Sports Should You Be Wearing a Mouth Guard For?


For most sports, it’s not mandatory that you wear a sports mouthguard. Which is really silly in my opinion because imagine that you’ve lost a front tooth, or broke one in half. It would not be good. 

I bet you would regret not wearing one, as we don’t often think about the consequences until they actually happen

I had a patient who lived this exact consequence from not wearing a sports guard. 

She was a young female hockey player and a few games into the season, she got hit in the face with an elbow and lost her front tooth. She was 14 years old at the time! 

Because of her young age, she had to wear a flipper (a little denture appliance with one tooth on it to replace the missing tooth) until she could get an implant a few years down the road. 

She had to wait at least a few years because they had to wait until her jaw stopped growing so the implant could be successful.  

When she played sports after her injury, she couldn’t wear her flipper because there is a risk of it damaging the tissues or swallowing it if you get hit again. 

She hated this because when she was playing you could see her missing front tooth. As well, every time she ate food would get stuck underneath and she could no longer bite into an apple or piece of pizza. As a result, she has to cut up her food before eating it. 

Her missing tooth really affected her everyday life including how she felt about her appearance and being self-conscious about talking and eating. 

After asking her a few questions I found out that every other year she wore a sports guard, but at the beginning of this season, the league made it not mandatory to wear a sports guard.

Needless to say, her parents were not impressed that the hockey league backtracked and took away the mandatory sports guard. This backtracking had made it too easy for the players to give up wearing a sports guard. 

Here is a list of sports you should wear a night guard for:

According to the American Dental Association and the Academy for Sports Dentistry; 

  • Acrobatics
  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Bicycling
  • Boxing
  • Equestrian events
  • Extreme sports
  • Field hockey
  • Football
  • Gymnastics
  • Handball
  • Ice hockey
  • Inline skating
  • Lacrosse
  • Martial arts
  • Racquetball
  • Rugby
  • Shot putting
  • Skateboarding
  • Skiing
  • Skydiving
  • Soccer
  • Softball
  • Squash
  • Surfing
  • Volleyball
  • Water polo
  • Weightlifting
  • Wrestling

And I am going to add a few myself; 

  • Rollerblading
  • Mountain biking
  • Field and street hockey 
  • Kickboxing

Why sports mouthguards are not always mandatory

One of the biggest reasons why it is not mandatory is because of the lack of research behind them. There cannot be claims that they actually prevent concussions, this is because it is unethical to study it. 

You can’t just get someone to wear a sports guard and then hit them in the head and see if they get a concussion. 

All they can do is to simulate it and do tests on shock absorption… and you yourself can put two and two together. Less shock, less chance of a concussion

It’s really a shame that many sporting leagues do not make it mandatory to wear. It should just be a part of the uniform. In some sports, the mouth guard colours match the team’s colours. And when everyone has to do it, it becomes more socially acceptable. 

Even though you might think a sport is a low risk, it’s not just about the blow but the harm you actually do with clenching and grinding your teeth. I find this myself even when I am at the gym doing a challenging workout, I often have to remind myself not to clench my jaw and teeth together. 

Another concern is money, I have many parents complain about how much they cost. But it’s more expensive to have to fix/replace teeth. Prevention is much cheaper than treating the consequence. 

Mouth Guard 101

  • What is it? It is a removable mouth appliance that protects surrounding tissues (teeth, cheeks, tongue, lips, gums)
  • Absorbs up to 80% of the force in an upward blow to the jaw 
    • Reduce the chance of breaking your jaw, causing trauma to your TMJ (jaw joint near the ear) 
  • The overall risk of injury is 2x greater when the sports mouthguard is not worn 
  • Approximate cost to replace a lost front tooth is between $5,000 to 15,000 

Types of sports guards

The type of sports guard that is best for you really depends on your situation. Let’s say you are going through orthodontic treatment (braces) and your teeth are moving quite quickly. You will likely need a new sports guard every month or two. They even sell ones on Amazon that are made specifically for people with braces.

This may not be realistic and you will need a more thin one because you may need to wear one on both the bottom and top teeth. They do sell some over the counter ones that are made for braces, but first talk with your dental professional to see what the best option is for you.

And what about weightlifting or gym activities? You may just need a small thin appliance to prevent you from clenching your teeth together and chipping/cracking them. 

Stock Type 

  • “One size fits all” 
  • Purchased over the counter 
  • Offers the least amount of protection

Boil and Bite

  • User formed
  • Purchased over the counter
  • Offers some protection 

Custom Vacuum Formed Single Layer 

  • Made in the dental office
  • Custom-fit
  • Provides good protection

Pressure Laminated Multiple Layer

  • Made in a dental laboratory
  • Custom-fit
  • Provides the BEST protection 

Here is a studyOpens in a new tab. that was done comparing custom made sports mouthguards to over the counter ones. It goes over the difference in injury rate, with the custom sports mouthguards being less than half the rate of injury than the over the counter options. They do discuss that more research needs to be done in this area but the evidence does show that custom made guards are more effective at reducing injury. 

How to clean a sports guard

You will want to rinse it under cold water after use and let air dry. Make sure you are storing it in a hard container that has air holes to let the sports guard dry properly. If it stays wet it will promote bacterial growth and cause the guard to smell. 

Clean it with a toothbrush and toothpaste when you can. You do not want to soak it in mouthwash as it can start to break down the material it is made of. This can make the sports guard gather more bacteria and get more smelly! 

This spray can save the day from smelly sports and mouthguards. Not only does it freshen, but the ingredients help prevent bacteria from thriving on the sports guard.

DO NOT; 

  • Use hot water, as it can melt and distort the guard and it will not fit as well
  • Use an abrasive toothpaste such as a whitening toothpaste as it can scratch the surface. Scratches can become homes to bacteria. 

When to replace a sports guard

You will want to replace the sports guard when signs of wear can be seen (try not to chew on it like all the professional athletes you see on the TV). 

Any cracks, excessive wear, tears, or places where it is pushing into the gum tissue might mean that it needs to be replaced. 

The mouthguard should be snug in your mouth, if it is made properly you won’t be able to flick it out with your tongue. If it is loose and you get bumped, it could come out easily and reduce the protection of your mouth. It can get loose over time as you grow, or it wears out. 

It is usually recommended that you replace the sports guard after one or two playing seasons. The plastic can start to wear out over time, even though you may not notice it. It can become less “bouncy” and therefore absorb less force. 

Where to get a sports guard 

The best place is to have a custom vacuum-formed or pressure laminated one made at your dental office. Again as noted before. these ones will fit the best and give you the best protection

For the cheaper ones (stock, boil and bite), you can find them online on Amazon and at a drugstore/pharmacy and even Wall-Mart. 

Your health is priceless, and protecting your head from injury is extremely important. And I am a huge believer that something is better than nothing. I’d rather you wear a cheaper one than nothing at all. 

I hope you have found this information to be useful, and take the advice to get a sports mouthguard. 

Holly

Holly Verran RDH

I am a Registered Dental Hygienist in Ontario, Canada. I hold registration and good standing with both the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario and the Canadian Dental Hygiene Association.

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