What Is A Mouthguard?

A mouthguard is a plastic cover that fits over and protects your teeth from collision or impact. They are most often utilised in sports that involve a high risk of impact to the face, but can also be used to help treat TMJ and sleep apnea. 

How Does A Mouthguard Work?

Mouthguards utilise force dissipation to reduce the impact of a collision. It does this by:

  • The elastic nature absorbing some of the force
  • The force is distributed evenly across all teeth so no single tooth absorbs the entire impact
  • The force is also distributed evenly throughout the entire jaw so no single area of the jaw absorbs the entire impact

What Are The Risk Factors When Playing Sport?

When you play a high-impact sport without a mouthguard you run the risk of chipping, breaking or losing teeth, soft tissue injuries of the mouth, and jaw fractures. According to the Australian Dental Association (ADA), 40% of traumatic injuries to teeth are sports-related, yet only a third of Australian wear a mouthguard when playing contact sport.  

What Can A Mouthguard Help Prevent?

Mouthguards act as a buffer for high-impact collisions as the spongy material helps absorb the shock and lessen the force applied to the jaw. When there is a direct impact to the face, the force exerted can travel through your teeth, jaw and even the upper part of your skull. These collisions without a mouthguard can cause tooth and jaw fractures, and even concussions. For example, if you were to receive a heavy blow which caused your jaw to slam together, a mouthguard would act as a barrier preventing damage to both the top and bottom rows of your teeth.  

What Mouthguard Should I Choose?

There are two main mouthguard options on the market:

  • Boil-and-bite: Over-the-counter mouthguards that are self-fitted by immersing in hot water then biting into the mouthguard so it takes the shape of the teeth and mouth. It’s less effective and can be more uncomfortable as it doesn’t conform as well to the person’s bite and anatomy of the jaw. However, if you’re in a fix, a boil-and-bite mouthguard is better than no mouthguard at all.
  • Custom-fitted: Constructed and fitted by a dental professional, a customised mouthguard provides the best protection for your teeth. The dentist takes an impression of your teeth and makes a plaster model to get the closest possible fit. The mouthguard needs to be at least 4mm thick, with a cushioning effect that provides protection against impact. It fits snugly so it’s still possible to talk and breathe – an important aspect during an intense game.

Will A Mouthguard Affect My Performance?

For custom-fitted mouthguards, the answer is no. Various studies have explored mouthguards’ effects on athletic performance. Most research points to there being no negative impact on strength or performance.[1][2]

However, some studies did report negative effects when wearing boil-and-bite mouthguards because of discomfort or breathing difficulties.[3] A poor fit is usually the culprit in these cases. This is another reason why it’s important to invest in a custom-made mouthguard.

How Do You Care For A Mouthguard?

After using your mouthguard, rinse it in warm water and soap, then allow it to dry. Occasionally use a mouthwash to disinfect it. When not in use, your mouthguard should be stored in a cool place and kept in a plastic container with vents to allow air to circulate. Most importantly, don’t leave it in the car – the heat can destroy the shape of your mouthguard and render it useless.   

[1] von Arx, Flury, Tschan et al. (2008). Exercise capacity in athletes with mouthguards. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 29(5): pp 435-438.

[2] Duddy, Weissman, Paranjpe et al (2012). Influence of different types of mouthguards on strength and performance of collegiate athletes: a controlled-randomized trial. Dental Traumatology, 28(4): pp 263-267.

[3] Cetin, Keçeci, Erdoğan et al (2009). Influence of custom-made mouthguards on strength, speed and anaerobic performance of taekwondo athletes. Dental Traumatology, 25(3): pp. 272-276.