What are Mouthguards?
Mouthguards, also referred to as mouth protectors or athletic mouthguards, are protective devices that minimize the risk of injuries to the face, jaw, teeth, lips, gums, and dental arches. They are removable devices that cover the upper teeth to help reduce injuries to the teeth and surrounding soft tissues. Mouthguards are also effective in preventing root fractures, crown fractures, and tooth dislocations.
Mouthguards are typically made for children, especially those involved in athletics, and provide protection from both indirect and direct blows. In order to provide effective protection, they must fit perfectly, stay in position during contact to cushion the impact, and allow the athlete to speak and breathe easily. Mouthguards are also used to protect teeth against bruxism, which is defined as the action of clenching and grinding teeth, typically during sleep. Untreated bruxism can lead to chipped, cracked, or worn down teeth.
Types of Mouthguards
There are four different types of mouthguards available, depending on the patient’s needs and whether they need the device for bruxism or sports:
Dental technicians make custom-fabricated mouthguards using a dental cast of an athlete’s mouth. They are the most popular mouthguard in dentistry. In addition, they offer good protection without negatively impacting speaking and breathing. These devices are created using a single sheet of EVA (ethyl-vinyl-acetate) that is heated and placed over a dental cast. They are also molded specifically to each patient’s mouth and teeth. These appliances also allow for orthodontic movement of teeth and have the most retention. On the downside, custom mouthguards do not provide long-term protection and should be monitored closely after a few weeks of wear. They are also the most expensive.
Boil and Bite
Boil and bite mouthguards are traditional, mouth-formed appliances. They are placed into boiling water, which softens the material and allows for easy placement. The softened material forms to the teeth quickly and protects the mouth from athletic dental injuries. These types of mouthguards are available at most sporting goods stores and online websites.
The “retention” of stock mouthguards comes from biting down during contact. They are the least protective because they do not mold to teeth, tend to be uncomfortable and make it difficult to speak and breathe when in use. Stock guards are also purchased commercially at sporting goods stores or online websites. Overall, they are a cheap alternative and are not highly recommended by dentists and orthodontists.
Occlusal Splints (Bruxism)
Splints are considered occlusal appliances because they help with teeth positioning and jaw alignment, especially while sleeping. The hard acrylic devices are custom-made for every patient and protect teeth from grinding, clenching, and gnashing. The devices can also relieve jaw pain and discomfort, depending on the patient’s needs.
Criteria for Effective Mouthguards
To receive the best protection against injuries and damage, the Academy of Sports Dentistry (ASD) recommends the following criteria for a properly fitted mouthguard:
- They should be custom-made and molded to the patient’s teeth. Commercial versions, such as boil and bite and stock, are not as effective and do not last as long.
- They should protect and cover the teeth and surrounding structures, including the lips, gums, tongue, and dental arches.
- They should have a minimum of 3mm covering the occlusal (biting) surfaces of teeth.
- The material used to make them should be FDA approved.
- They should stay in the correct position to prevent dislodging from direct or indirect blows.
- It should be easy to speak, breathe, and talk when in use.
- They should be professionally fitted by a dentist before use.
Treatment Cost & Insurance
Mouthguards are typically not covered by insurance. Depending on the type chosen, prices range from $10-$500:
Custom Fabricated Mouthguards
Boil and Bite Mouthguards
Occlusal Splints (Bruxism)