A mouth guard is a device worn over the teeth to protect them. It is usually used during athletic and recreational activities, but may also be recommended by your dentist if you wear braces or would benefit from protecting your teeth and dental restorations from potential trauma.

Mouth guards can also serve as a barrier between the teeth or braces and the cheeks, and between the lips and tongue, thus protecting the soft tissue of your mouth.

A good mouth guard does not limit breathing and permits speaking. It remains firmly in place while you are active and is well-fitting and comfortable. Furthermore, a mouth guard should be easy to clean, durable, tasteless, and odorless.

In most cases, a mouth guard only covers the upper teeth. However, a mouth guard on the lower teeth may be recommended for athletes with a protruding jaw, or for those who wear braces or have restorations or dental appliances placed on their lower teeth.

Who Should Wear a Mouth Guard?

The U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association requires that mouth guards be worn only for lacrosse, ice hockey, field hockey, and football. However, the American Dental Association advises the use of a mouth guard for 29 sports and activities. These include the four sports covered by the NCAA, acrobatics, basketball, boxing, discus throwing, gymnastics, handball, martial arts, racquetball, rugby, shot putting, skateboarding, skiing, skydiving, soccer, squash, surfing, volleyball, water polo, weightlifting and wrestling. The basic principle is that the use of a mouth guard is recommended whenever there is a likelihood of contact with other players or hard surfaces.

It is not mandatory for athletes to wear mouth guards and some coaches and parents do not realize their safety value. People may not wear mouth guards for a variety of reasons, including discomfort, image, impaired speaking, cost, and inconvenience.

Advantages of a Mouth Guard

A mouth guard protects against chipped or broken teeth, tooth loss, and root and bone damage. It can reduce the risk of serious injuries including jaw fracture, concussion, cerebral hemorrhage, and neck injuries by helping to prevent the lower jaw from jamming into the upper jaw. By protecting the soft tissue in the mouth from potential injury from the teeth, mouth guards help avoid cutting and bruising of the cheeks, lips, and tongue.

Types of Mouth Guards

Your dentist or orthodontist will help you select the mouth guard best suited for your needs. Mouth guards are available in three types:

  • Stock mouth guards are pre-made, ready to wear, and the least expensive of the three types. They can be purchased in sporting good stores and drugstores. Made of rubber or polyvinyl, stock mouth guards rank low on fit, comfort, and protection. Because they are held in place only when the jaw is closed, they make breathing and talking difficult.
  • Mouth-formed mouth guards come in the form of either a boil-and-bite kind or a shell liner. The boil-and-bite kind is made of thermoplastic, and when placed in boiling water, can be molded using the fingers and the bite in order to fit the teeth. They can be reheated and refitted if needed to obtain a better fit. A shell liner is lined with acrylic gel or rubber so that it can be molded to the teeth and maintain its shape. Mouth-formed guards can also be purchased at sporting good stores and drugstores.
  • Custom-fitted mouth guards offer the most fit, comfort, and protection out of the three. They are made from an impression of your teeth, and therefore provide an exact fit. They are created by the dentist and dental technician and are more expensive. Custom-fitted mouth guards cover all the teeth and also protect the chin against trauma. Some custom-fitted mouth guards have soft inner linings that offer comfort for the teeth and gums. They may be made of acrylic or other materials if the person has allergy to acrylics.

In choosing a mouth guard, consider the level of safety and potential injury involved in different sports and consult with your dentist to select a mouth guard that best matches your needs. With children and adolescents, it is important to have a dental evaluation done, since the mouth is continually growing and developing during those ages.

Other Kinds of Mouthpieces

There are other types of mouthpieces available to protect your teeth, including occlusal splints, night guards, and anterior deprogrammers. Occlusal splints (bite splints/ bite planes/ Michigan splints/ night guards) are custom-fitted to the upper or lower teeth. They are removable and are worn to protect the teeth and restorations. Additional uses include managing problems caused by jaw issues, such as headaches and neck aches, and stabilizing the bite before other dental treatment is carried out. Because occlusal splints generally do not offer the same level of protection as provided by athletic mouth guards, they are not recommended for use during athletic or recreational activities.

Unlike other kinds of splints that are typically worn full-time, night guards are only worn at night. Night guards are especially helpful for people who tend to clench or grind their teeth at night. With the use of night guards, tooth wear and tear and risk of tooth fractures can be reduced.

Anterior deprogrammers are types of mouth guards that help to relax the jaw muscles and are most suitable for people who are chronic and severe grinders and clenchers. Depending on the severity and type of problem, anterior deprogrammers can be worn day and/or night. They include the NTI (Nociception Trigeminal Inhibitor), B (Bruxism) splint, and Kois appliances. The NTI is a small apparatus made of clear plastic, worn over the two upper or lower front teeth at night to prevent contact with the back teeth. It is used to alleviate symptoms of TMJ disorders and teeth grinding, and reduce tension headaches. B splints are designed to be worn on either the upper or lower teeth and when used with another appliance, can prevent changes in the occlusion. Kois appliances can be used to relieve headaches and muscle fatigue, and are typically worn at night.