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How to Protect Your Teeth While Playing Sports

Helmets, knee pads, shin guards … anyone who plays sports or has an athletic kid is familiar with this protective gear. But unless your sport is football or hockey, you may have only seen mouth guards in the aisle of your local sports or drug store.

But any participant in a sport that involves possible (or even potential) impact with other players, balls, or hard surfaces should protect their teeth with a mouth guard. The American Dental Association recommends wearing mouth guards during all practices and competitions for the following sports: acrobats, basketball, boxing, field hockey, football, gymnastics, handball, ice hockey, lacrosse, martial arts, racquetball, roller hockey, rugby, shot putting, skateboarding, skiing, skydiving, soccer, squash, surfing, volleyball, water polo, weightlifting, and wrestling.

What Is an Athletic Mouth Guard?

Mouth guards fit over the upper teeth, and protect them from breaking, chipping or cracking due to impacts to your face and head and injuries directly to your mouth. Mouth guards also protect your mouth from your teeth – warding off cracked lips and bitten tongues. Dentists may advise those who wear braces or have dental restoration work (such as a bridge or a dental implant) in their lower jaws to obtain a mouth guard that protects the lower teeth as well.

The National Youth Sports Safety Foundation says that athletes who don't wear mouth guards are 60 times more likely to damage their teeth. That’s no surprise. What is unexpected is how few people opt to wear a mouth guard. A study by the American Association of Orthodontist found that 84% of children playing in organized sports do not wear mouth guards because they are not required to wear them. While this study focused on kids it’s highly likely that adults aren’t wearing mouth guards when the rules don’t demand that they do so – unless they have already spent a lot of money at the dentist and are worried about protecting that investment.

The reasons given for not wearing mouth guards tend to be that they are uncomfortable, distracting during play, and it’s hard to breathe normally or speak clearly when wearing one. All of those issues can be addressed with the right mouth guard, fitted correctly. That said, in just one athletic season, athletes have a 1 in 10 chance of suffering a facial or dental injury. Those odds, and the high cost of restorative dental care, should make mouth guards an essential piece of sports equipment,

Types of Mouth Guards

There are three different types of mouth guards:

A ready-made mouth guard is the least-expensive option, costing about $5-$20. This is also exactly the type of mouth guard that is most likely to annoy whoever is wearing it. While they do come in three sizes – small, medium, and large – the sizing is subjective and this type of mouth guard can’t be atacustomized to fit the wearer’s mouth. Most dentists don’t recommend this type of mouth guard, but some say ready-mades are better than no mouth guard at all. Some readymade mouth guards like Battle Sport Science’s – Battle Oxygen Mouthguard series, they even come with a $5000 dental warranty and work with braces. Whichever mouth guard product you choose, it’s important to choose one that has the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. This indicates that the mouth guard complies with the ANSI/SAI standard and is considered to be safe to wear.

“Boil and bite" mouth guards cost from $20-$50, and are the most popular type of mouth guards. These can be customized for a better fit – you heat the mouth guard and then bite down on it to reshape it to fit your mouth. While custom mouth guards will offer the ultimate in protection and comfort, boil and bites are a good option. Look for thermoplastic “boil and bite” mouth guards. However, boil and bites can feel a little bulky in your mouth, but they don’t have the odd taste and smell that many acrylic mouth guards harbor. The thermoplastic ones also tend to retain their flexibility over time better than the acrylic models, providing a more comfortable fit. Here again, as noted above, you want to look for the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Seal of Acceptance on the mouth guard’s packaging.

A custom-made mouth guard is made by a dentist or lab technician, and provides real comfort and protection. If you or your child has with braces, a protruding jaw, cleft palate, dental problems, allergies or sinus issues or wears removable bridges or dentures you should definitely consider a custom mouth guard. Ditto if over-the-counter mouth guards just don’t feel comfortable, make you feel like you can’t breathe properly, or otherwise annoy you. Price may be an issue though, custom mouth guards cost several hundred dollars – perhaps more if you have special dental issues.

Some studies, such as this one published by the Academy of General Dentistry, indicate that custom-made mouth guards reduce the chance of young athletes suffering a concussion. The study followed 412 players from six high school football teams. Three teams (220 athletes) were randomly assigned to wear custom-made mouth guards, and three teams (192 athletes) wore standard OTC mouth guards of their own choosing. All players wore the same style of football helmet.

According to the study, 8.3 percent of athletes in the OTC mouth guard group suffered MTBI/concussion injuries. For those with custom-made mouth guards, however, the rate was only 3.6 percent.

Cleaning an Athletic Mouth Guard

Don’t toss that mouth guard into your gym bag and leave it to mold away until you pop it in for the next game. Bacteria, mold, yeast, and all sorts of fungi can quickly start populating on a mouth guard that hasn’t been properly cleaned and stored, causing oral infections. Some studies indicate that unclean mouth guards can even cause respiratory infections and asthma attacks.

Clean your mouth guard as soon as possible – immediately is best – after using it to help ensure it doesn’t become a home for nasty microorganisms. A simple rinse under a running tap is not enough. The American Dental Association suggests that you brush the mouth guard with a toothbrush and toothpaste after each wearing to remove debris and bacteria that lives in your mouth. Follow up by rinsing it with soapy water, and then clear water. Some researchers recommend soaking mouth guards in antimicrobial solutions – check with your dentist or with the manufacturer of your mouth guard to see what cleaning processes and products they recommend.

Dry your mouth guard gently and then store it a clean, well- ventilated protective case. Make sure to clean the case regularly too, you can use the same process as you use to clean your mouth guard. Make sure the case is dry before you use it for storage. Dampness is conducive to bacteria and mold growth.

Rinse your mouth guard with cool water before using it. Avoid exposing it to high temperatures as this may cause the mouth guard to warp – so no hot water washings or leaving it in the car or anywhere that it may be exposed to heat.

When to Replace a Mouth Guard?

When you see signs of wear – like cracks and dimples in the surface of your previously smooth mouth guard – its time to get a new one.

If you have a custom-made mouth guard, your dentist may be able to give it a deep clean in an ultrasonic machine, smooth the surface and repair cracks.

Over-the-counter mouth guards are best retired at the end of a sports season, or – if you participate in sports year-round - as soon as the mouth guard starts to show signs of heavy wear.

Cracks and other surface blemishes can provide a place for bacteria and mold to fester, away from the reach of your toothbrush. That’s the primary reason to retire a mouth guard. Kids may also need new mouth guards to properly fit their growing jaws and teeth.

Protecting Smiles All Year Long

Wearing a mouth guard during sports is just part of what you need to do to protect your teeth. Good oral hygiene and regular dental care is the best way to keep your smile healthy and beautiful. Dental insurance and dental savings plans make going to the dentist for regular preventative care affordable. And should you or your child experience an injury to your teeth or gums, it’s critical to get to the dentist as soon as possible for the best chance of saving the tooth and preventing problems that can plague you for years. Dental savings plans, unlike traditional dental insurance, activate quickly and don’t impose long waiting periods before you can get treatment.

To find out more about how :DentalPlans.com can help you afford quality dental care, call one of our :DP AtYourService Customer Care Representatives at 1-800-238-5163
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