What are they?
An athletic mouthguard is an appliance constructed out of resilient plastic that encases its wearer's teeth and adjacent jawbone.
When worn, it provides protection for the hard and soft tissues of the mouth (teeth, gums, lips, cheeks and bone) by way of absorbing and redistributing the forces created by traumatic blows.
Design and construction.
To the uninitiated, all sports mouthguards may seem similar. There are, however, three distinct types (based on their method of construction). They are:
Custom-fitted guards are generally considered the preferred type, followed by boil-and-bite and then stock.
How important is it to have one? - Statistics.
The importance of wearing an athletic mouthguard, when participating in almost any type of sport, cannot be over emphasized.
One study determined that the incidence of mouth injury for students participating in basketball and soccer programs was higher than those participating in football and hockey. In fact, basketball players were found to be twice as likely to sustain a mouth injury as those playing football.
Now, we must reveal that the use of a mouthguard was mandated by the football and hockey programs but not for basketball and soccer. But these findings demonstrate that wearing a guard is important for most any type of sport. Even those generally perceived as posing a lower risk.
Most people would probably assume that baseball poses less risk for oral trauma than basketball. But on the surface, studies have suggested that both can share a common injury rate, on the order of 12% of participants.
All athletes should wear one.
The use of a mouthguard is often mandated by a sport's governing bodies (school, conference, national association). With others, however, the perceived risk for oral injury is low and therefore wearing one is not.
- The participants of any type of contact sport (one where player contact is a common and expected) should wear mouth protection. These would include football, boxing, ice hockey, roller hockey, lacrosse, field hockey, rugby, soccer, basketball, water polo, martial arts, and wrestling.
- Other activities, while not necessarily true contact sports, can still place the athlete at risk. They include baseball, racquetball, squash, handball, skiing, skateboarding, rollerblading, skydiving, volleyball, surfing, acrobatics, gymnastics, tennis, and cycling.
The style of mouthpiece worn for the activities listed in this latter group may not need to be the same type of heavy-duty appliance worn for heavy-contact sports. A guard's design can be tailored for the type of sport for which it's worn.
Benefits / Applications.
1) Protection for teeth and dental work.
a) Tooth-to-object impact.
One of the most obvious benefits of wearing a sports mouthpiece is providing protection for the athlete's teeth and dental work.
When a blow is delivered to the mouth, the energy of the impact must be absorbed by the structures on which it lands. A mouthguard can help to dissipate the total amount of force that any one tooth or mouth region is exposed to.
- The spongy resiliency of a guard can absorb some of the energy of a blow.
- Its stiffness can help to distribute a blow's forces over a greater surface area.
Both of these factors help to lessen the total amount of force that any one tooth is subjected to and therefore lessen the likelihood that chipping, breaking, or even dislodgement will occur.
b) Tooth-to-tooth impact.
Some collisions are such that they forcefully slam an athlete's jaws together. In these situations, the thickness and resiliency of the portion of a guard's plastic that covers over the chewing surface of the wear's teeth can help to cushion the effects of this reaction and therefore help to prevent tooth damage.
2) Jawbone protection.
Wearing a sport mouthpiece may help to prevent jawbone fracture. Both its resiliency and stiffness can help to minimize the total amount of force that any one area of bone must absorb.
3) Soft tissue protection.
A mouthguard can act as a buffer between the soft and hard tissues of the mouth.
Blows to the face can force a person's lips or cheeks against their teeth, dental work, or dental appliances such that they are pierced or torn. Additionally, violent jaw movements caused by a blow or collision can result in a biting laceration of the lips, cheeks, or tongue.
Sports guards, especially those that have a dual-arch design can help to protect the lips and cheeks of athletes who wear dental braces.
5) Partial dentures.
The contours of customized mouthguards (Custom-made, Boil-and-bite) will fill in where teeth are missing and provide support for the remaining ones. This makes it possible for an athlete to leave their removable partial denture out when they play.
6) Protection from concussion.
Some studies suggest that wearing a mouthguard can help to reduce the incidence or severity of concussion. This fact is not universally agreed upon by all researchers but certainly there is no downside to wearing a mouthguard.
7) Improved athletic performance.
The use of a mouthguard may help to improve an athlete's performance, in the sense that they may play more aggressively knowing that their risk of mouth injury is less.