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Choosing a Mouth Guard for Your Athlete

Regardless of the groundhog’s adventures with his shadow, spring is coming. Eventually. That means that spring sports are just around the corner and you may be wondering how to keep your kids safe and protected while they enjoy healthy competition and active play.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), 10-20% of sports injuries involve trauma to the face including the mouth, teeth, and jaws. The National Youth Sports Foundation for Safety says that athletes participating in sports are 60 times more likely to experience damage to their teeth when choosing not to wear a mouth guard.

It’s not enough to just grab a mouth guard and go. Selecting the proper mouthguard for your child includes several factors that could play a pivotal role in protecting them should trauma occur. When choosing a mouth guard here are some things to consider:

Fit

Some mouth guards market themselves as one size fits all, but this can be dangerous. Everyone’s mouth is different, both regarding size and structure. A mouth guard should fit firmly so that biting it and clenching the jaw should not be required to keep it in place. This also means that it shouldn’t come loose easily. It should only be removable with the player’s hands.

Type

There are three types of mouth guards. The cheapest are stock mouth guards that come pre-formed and ready to wear. The biggest concern with these is that they are often bulky and don’t fit well which can be dangerous. The most popular type of mouth guard is the boil and bite variety. Even though there is some customization offered in terms of fit, it can still be very hard to get a proper size and shape using this method. The best option, especially if your child is serious about sports is a custom-made mouth guard. Many dentists provide this service and after taking an impression of your child’s teeth will create a unique and custom-fit mouth guard that provides optimal protection and comfort.

Dr. Gregory Kerbel, DDS, Dallas area cosmetic and family dentist believes that a properly fitting mouth guard is just as important for an athlete as their uniform, pads, and equipment.

“The ADA believes that nearly a third of dental injuries can be traced back to sports. This stigma that they are uncomfortable probably comes from the popular use of bulky, store bought mouthguards that can make it hard to breathe and speak when worn. Many people don’t realize that a more comfortable and customized option even exists. It’s just not worth the risk of permanent damage to avoid wearing a mouth guard when playing sports, even in sports that are not traditionally considered contact sports.”

Sport

Just like sports vary in contact and potential for injury, mouth guards also vary in the amount of protection they offer and areas of focus. High-contact sports like hockey, lacrosse, and football require a helmet and usually facemask or cage. This means that the front teeth can benefit from thinner coverage in order to allow for easier breathing and communication, but the molars need heavy protection to absorb the shocks from impact and protect the jaw, as well. Sports like soccer and basketball that don’t require protection of the face but still experience lots of contact need full coverage protection of all the major impact areas.

Another thing to consider, mouth guards are not meant to last for long periods of time. Replacing them each season is ideal, especially since children and teens are constantly growing and their mouth is no exception. A mouth guard that fit perfectly this season may be uncomfortable and ill-fitting next season. The best way to deal with this is to have your dentist evaluate the mouth guard at each six-month cleaning and exam. This means you don’t have to make a special trip just for the purpose of a mouth guard and you can be sure that your child is optimally protected.