Dental injuries can happen to anyone. However, they are most common in children and young adults who engage in activities such as skateboarding, cycling, football, hockey and other contact sports. Using a mouth guard is one of the best preventative dental care strategies to reduce the chances of lasting, costly damage.
Protective Features of a Good Mouth Guard
In order to cushion the teeth and jaw from injury, a good mouth guard must allow the person to speak, breathe and swallow normally. It should be comfortable yet fit tightly and should have neither taste nor odor. Finally, it needs to be at least 4 mm thick to provide protection against impact.
Types of Mouth Guards
There are three different kinds of mouth guards:
- Pre-made: These stock mouth guards are ready to wear and come pre-formed. You can find these at your local pharmacy at an inexpensive price. However, they usually don’t fit properly and are uncomfortable.
- Boil-and-bite: In order to fit these to your mouth, you soften the lining in boiling water. Then, you bite on the softened mouth guard to shape it to the contours of your mouth. While their customizability is a theoretical advantage over the pre-fabricated models described above, boil-and-bites often don’t fit properly in spite of your best efforts. Furthermore, they need to be replaced each season.
- Custom-fitted: These personalized mouth guards are made by a dentist or dental technician and are specifically fitted to the patient’s mouth. While they are much more costly, they furnish the person with a tailored fit that offers optimal cushioning and maximum protection. These types of guards can even be made for patients who are wearing braces, which provides an added layer of protection to their expensive orthodonture.
Caring For Mouth Guards
There are several things you can do to prolong the life and cleanliness of your mouth guard. These include:
- Rinsing it in warm, soapy water after every use.
- Regularly disinfecting it with mouth wash.
- Storing it in a well-ventilated box away from direct sunlight or heat.
- Requesting that your dentist inspects it at each appointment.
- Replacing it when recommended by your dentist. A good rule of thumb is to get a new mouth guard for your child every 12 to 18 months. Mouth guards for adults can last several years unless there has been tooth loss or other changes.
If you or your child is active and involved in sports or other leisure activities that lead to an increased risk of falling or being hit, talk to your oral care professional about getting a customized mouth guard. Then be sure to wear it; even the best equipment is useless if you leave it in its storage container.
Finally, talk to your dentist if your mouth guard starts to feel misaligned or uncomfortable. When it is made correctly and used every time you or your child are in risky situations, a mouth guard can be one of the best investments in preventative dental care that you will ever make.