A mouth guard is a device worn over the teeth to protect them from injury during teeth grinding or contact sports. Generally, three basic types of mouth guards are available:
- Stock mouth protectors: These devices are inexpensive and manufactured in a pre-formed shape, ready to wear. However, they may not fit very well and cause a difficulty in speech and breathing due to their bulkiness. They offer only minimal protection and are not recommended by dentists.
- Boil and bite mouth protectors: These devices provide a better fit than the stock mouth protectors and are available at most sporting goods stores. These guards are usually made of thermoplastic material. For use, they are immersed in hot water to soften them before placing them in the mouth where they are moulded to the desired shape with the help of your fingers and tongue.
- Custom-fitted mouth protectors: These are more expensive and usually offer the best fit. These guards are designed and constructed at the dentist's office or a dental lab, based on the specific requirements of each individual.
Mouth guards usually cover your upper teeth only. However, if you wear braces or other fixed dental equipment over your lower teeth, a mouth guard may be required for the lower teeth as well. A mouth guard should be tear-resistant and comfortable. It should also be durable, easy to clean, and should not restrict your speech or breathing.
Dentists may also suggest a nocturnal bite plate or splint, which is a special dental device resembling a mouth guard, that can be worn at night to stop teeth grinding and prevent tooth damage.
Mouth guards can be used by individuals who participate in contact sports such as boxing, soccer, lacrosse, football, basketball, ice hockey, and field hockey; irrespective of their age. They are also recommended for those participating in non-contact sports and any recreational activities that may pose a risk of injury to your mouth. Mouth guards can help prevent injury to the mouth, teeth, lips, cheeks and tongue. They also minimize broken and chipped teeth, nerve damage, and even the loss of a tooth.
Some tips for caring for your mouth guard:
- Before and after each use, rinse the mouth guard with cold water or mouth rinse. You can clean it with a toothbrush and toothpaste.
- Occasionally, clean it with soapy water and rinse thoroughly.
- Mouth guards should be stored in a firm, perforated container to prevent damage and allow air circulation.
- Avoid high temperatures, such as hot water, hot surfaces or direct sunlight, which can distort the mouth guard.
- Check your mouth guard frequently for tears, holes and poor fit, to see if it needs replacement.
- Schedule regular dental check-ups and take your mouth guard along so the dentist can examine it.