What is a Mouth Guard? Complete Overview

The tooth enamel is one of the hardest substances in our body. However, it cannot withstand traumatic forces. This is one of the reasons people seek emergency dental care after a forceful hit on the face or mouth. Many athletes who play contact sports are also prone to traumatic injury to the teeth and gums. It is essential to look out for preventive dental therapy to save the teeth and gums rather than seeking emergency dental care and losing a healthy tooth.

One of the prime dental methods that protect the teeth from traumatic injuries of the mouth is the fabrication of mouth guards. Mouth guards are characterized as a removable protective dental appliance which covers the teeth and gums on both the dental arches. These appliances come in various size and shape to fit the jaws of the patient. Today’s article will highlight the importance of mouthguard, its prime purpose in dentistry, and the different types of mouth guards that help to protect the teeth.


What is a mouth guard?

The mouth guard is characterized as a removable, flexible protective dental appliance. This device is usually worn to cover the teeth and gums while playing contact sports like football, hockey or basketball, and any other recreational activities. (1)

Typically, mouth guards are custom fitted to provide comfort to the individual. The protective cover over the teeth and gums acts as an excellent source against traumatic dental forces, especially for athletes with braces. Some of the prime qualities of a mouth guard are listed below –

  • Extremely comfortable to wear
  • Forms a firm barrier between the teeth and the lips
  • Custom-fit devices provide better stability and protection (2)
  • Mouthguards are easy to clean and store
  • These devices are reusable and with proper maintenance can be used for a long time
  • Mouthguards have good resilience and tear resistance
  • This dental appliance does not interfere with speech or breathing

What is the purpose of using a mouthguard?

Mouthguards usually fulfill several purposes and are not just limited to protecting teeth and gums during contact sports. Some of the primary uses of mouthguard include –

Dental protection for athletes

As mentioned above, individual games and activities like playing football, boxing, hockey, gymnastics, cycling, and volleyball may have a risk of traumatic dental injury. Such incidents can be potentially damaging, especially in athletes who wear braces.

Mouth guards play a crucial role in providing complete protection to the teeth, gums and orthodontic braces from the consequences of a traumatic blow to the face or mouth. Moreover, they help to avoid emergency dental care which may cost a fortune for some people.

Treatment for bruxism

Mouth guards that are used to treat bruxism or teeth grinding are typically termed as night guards. This is because these appliances are usually worn in the night during sleep. (3) Bruxism is characterized by clenching of the teeth during sleep that can cause potential damage to the health of the teeth and gums. Often people with bruxism complain of jaw pain, tooth pain, and sore gums.

Mouth guard minimizes the tooth contact between both the arches. Moreover, it equally distributes the biting force, which significantly reduces jaw pain, toothache, and soreness of the gums. Usually, stock mouth guards may not fit well and cause discomfort while sleeping. Therefore, custom-fitted mouth guards are preferred over other types of a mouth guard. Boil and bite mouth guards can be beneficial. However, they haven’t shown much improvement in treating bruxism.

Helps to treat sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is described as a potentially severe sleep disorder which temporarily obstructs the breathing of a person while sleeping. Such incidents often prevent the continuous flow of oxygen into the brain. Furthermore, it also contributes to increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

People with sleep apnea also develop snoring and feel dizzy or tired during the day. One of the prime treatments for sleep apnea is the use of a CPAP device. This device helps to open the airway passage during sleep. However, in the case of mild sleep apnea, custom fitted mouth guards can play a beneficial role.

Mouth guards used for sleep apnea work by pushing the lower jaw and tongue forward. Some varieties of mouth guards also consist of straps that take support from the head and keeps the mouth guard in the right position. (4)

Reduces snoring

Similar to the mouth guards used for sleep apnea, these dental appliances also reduce the incidence of snoring. The mouth guard pulls the lower jaw forward and opens the airway. This helps to clear the breathing and reduce snoring.

Although several over-the-counter mouth guards relieve snoring, it is best to get a custom fitted device. Custom fabricated mouth guards provide comfort while sleeping and also work efficiently in positioning the lower jaw forward.

A note on the history of mouth guards

The concept of dental mouth guards was first initiated to protect the teeth and gums during boxing. In the early times, mouth guards were made from cotton, tape, sponge, or small pieces of wood. However, clenching these materials between the teeth while boxing did not seem like a feasible option.

Krause developed the first reusable mouth guard by using natural rubber resin, namely gutta-percha over the upper front teeth. However, this device did not prove to work well for a long time. Jacob marks in the early 1900s developed the first custom fitted mouth guard. (5)

With the evolvements in the field of dentistry, mouth guards started to be made from transparent acrylic, often referred to as acrylic splints. Since then, mouth guards have become a standard protective appliance in the sports industry. The American Dental Association recommends mouth guards in almost 29 sports games and supports the efficacy of mouth guards in preventing dental injuries caused in contact and non-contact sports.

What are the different types of a mouth guard?

Stock mouth guards

Stock mouth guards are readily available over-the-counter in a sporting goods shop or a drug store. These appliances typically come in three different sizes of small, medium, and large and only cover the top of the teeth.

Stock mouth guards are usually the most inexpensive option and cost around $2-$15. However, because of the limited sizes, they might not be suitable for each person, especially for athletes with braces. Some of the common problems encountered with stock mouth guards include –

  • Improper fit
  • Interference with speaking (6)
  • Uncomfortable
  • Not adequate protection

Boil and bite mouth guards

Boil and bite mouth guards are considered as an upgraded version of the stock mouth guards. However, there are a few differences between the two types of mouth guards –

  • Unlike stock mouth guards, boil and bite mouth guards come in only one size that can be customized to the jaw size of the person.
  • The fabrication process involves molding of the material by placing it in boiled water. Once the material softens, it is placed over the front teeth of the patient, and the patient is asked to bite down on it.

Boil and bite mouth guards may warp easily after some time, which makes them non-durable. The only advantage of boil and bite mouth guards is that they are relatively inexpensive.

Custom-made mouth guards

Custom made a dentist typically fabricates mouth guards in a dental office. The dentist first takes an impression of both the dental arches of the patient. The mold is sent to the lab for fabrication of the mouth guard. The lab fabrication techniques may include –

  • Vacuum form – this technique produces a single layer mouth guard similar to boil and bite type
  • Pressure laminated – this technique creates a multi-layered mouth guard which provides better protection against traumatic forces.
  • Impression less technique – in this the mouth guard is made from a medical-grade thermoplastic material which is molded to the shape of the patient’s mouth.

Custom-fitted mouth guards have several benefits which include the following –

  • It has a supreme fit as compared to other types of mouth guards
  • Very comfortable to wear
  • Excellent durability (7)
  • Does not interfere with speech or breathing
  • Can be re-used regularly
  • Has excellent wear resistance to withstand forceful blow or accidental injury
  • It is the best choice to treat snoring, sleep apnea, and bruxism.

One of the disadvantages of custom-made mouth guards is the cost of this dental appliance. Typically, custom fit mouth guards cost between $190 – $500.

How can you keep your mouth guard clean?

Taking proper care of the mouth guard can significantly contribute to the longevity of the appliance. Moreover, it helps to avoid transmission of bacteria and plaque from the dental device to the tooth surface. Following are some of the useful ways to keep your mouth guard clean

  • Rinse the mouth guard after every use with warm water to clear the plaque and bacteria that may have accumulated while wearing the device.
  • An effective way of thoroughly cleaning your mouth guard is to use a toothbrush and toothpaste. Gently brush the inner surface of the mouth guard. You can also use a Q-tip to clean the surface efficiently.
  • Once you’ve cleaned the appliance, allow it to air dry completely. Do not store a wet mouth guard as it will support bacteria growth in the moist environment. It doesn’t take more than 15-30 minutes to dry the mouth guard.
  • Always store the mouth guard safely in a protective case. Leaving the mouth guard outside may allow it to absorb the moisture from the humid air. Moreover, it warps the device and makes it less durable. Additionally, mouth guards that are not stored in a case have a higher risk of damage.
  • Make a habit of deeply cleaning the mouth guard once in a week. This can be done quickly by dipping the mouth guard in a bowl of water mixed with over-the-counter cleaner, mouth wash, vinegar or hydrogen peroxide solution. Whichever method you choose to use, make sure to leave the device in for at least 30 minutes. Rinse the appliances thoroughly, dry it, and store it in a protective case.
  • While you may wash your mouth guard regularly, always remember to clean the protective case as well. This is to avoid unnecessary transmission of germs on the surface of the mouth guard.
  • Always check your mouth guard for any deformities, cuts or fractures. Consult a dentist about repairing the damages or getting a new mouth guard that can protect your teeth and gums efficiently.

Take away message

The health of our teeth and gums is essential for better functioning of the mouth. Traumatic dental injuries often can lead to a waste of energy, money, and time. It is beneficial to invest in preventive and cost-effective methods to protect the health of your teeth and gums. Mouth guards are a boon to the field of dentistry.

They are protective dental appliances that cover the teeth and gums on both the dental arches. Mouth guards are typically used for athletes who play contact and non-contact sports. However, other uses of mouth guard include treatment of sleep apnea, bruxism, and snoring.

There are several types of mouth guards available in the market. Some of them include boil and bite type, stock mouth guards, and custom fitted mouth guards. The best way to choose a mouth guard is to consult a dentist and discuss the purpose for which you want the mouth guard.


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