A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Watch your mouth: Mouth guard tips for athletes

Young woman playing lacrosse - Mouthguard 101

Mouth guards should be used if you may come in contact with teammates, opponents, equipment or playing surfaces.

If your child plays sports, don’t overlook one important piece of injury prevention equipment – the mouth guard.

Dental injuries are common in sports. Wearing a mouth guard reduces an athlete’s risk of broken teeth, lip or tongue injuries, jaw injuries and damaged braces.

“Dental injuries can affect eating, speech and appearance,” said Aaron Mertz, D.M.D., a Marshfield Clinic dentist. “Some jaw damage causes pain and range of motion problems later in life.”

Make mouth guards part of your uniform

Athletes should wear mouth guards if they are likely to come in contact with teammates, opponents, equipment or playing surfaces. Football, hockey, baseball, basketball and wrestling immediately come to mind, but dental injuries can happen during soccer, gymnastics, mountain biking and skateboarding.

“Kids should start wearing mouth guards as soon as they enter collision or contact sports, even if they’re very young,” Mertz said. “Wearing a mouth guard should become a habit like it’s part of their uniform.”

Three types to choose from

Protecting your child’s mouth doesn’t have to be expensive. Stock mouth guards from the drug store cost a few dollars. You can’t adjust their fit, so they may be uncomfortable for some children.

Boil-and-bite mouth guards sold at sporting goods stores may provide a better fit. It is placed in boiling water to soften, then placed in the mouth and shaped around the teeth.

Custom mouth guards are made in a dental office or laboratory using impressions of the teeth. They provide the best fit and are ideal for kids who experience discomfort or obstructed breathing from store bought mouth guards. The custom fit makes them less likely to fall out on impact.

“Mouth guards typically cover only the upper teeth,” Mertz said. “Athletes who have braces should wear a mouth guard that also covers their lower teeth.”

Look for signs of wear or poor fit that mean it’s time to replace the mouth guard.

Keep mouth guards clean and safe

Clean mouth guards after use with toothpaste and a toothbrush. You can use dish soap if you rinse it thoroughly after cleaning.

Keep the mouth guard in a protective case so it doesn’t get broken and stays clean until the next time you wear it. Don’t leave it in a hot car where it can get warped.

Bring your mouth guard to the dentist each time you have your teeth cleaned. Your dentist can inspect and clean it thoroughly.

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