A good set of teeth is not just important for cosmetic reasons (though that is a big plus– nothing beats a great smile with a perfect set of straight teeth), but also for health reasons. Dental care extends beyond just good brushing and fresh breath; good oral hygiene has a positive effect on your overall well-being and health too.
Some of us with good genes are blessed with a set of perfectly aligned teeth, while others might choose to get their teeth straightened with either conventional braces or the more popular invisible/clear aligners. Those with damaged or missing teeth would have to opt for restorative dentistry, which is a long (sometimes even months or years), painful and expensive process. Prevention is always better than a cure, and in this case wearing a mouthguard for things such as contact sports is the best prevention against major damage to the teeth and having to undergo restorative dentistry procedures.
What are mouthguards and why must I use them?
Mouthguards or sportsguards are plastic horseshoe-shaped covers that are used for protection from injuries obtained while playing certain high-impact sports. They fit over the teeth and gums, cushioning them and thus providing protection in case of an injury. (There are also other types of mouthguards available for protecting your teeth from grinding, or clenching while you sleep; but we will not be discussing those in this article).
Mouthguards are important for those partaking in contact sports such as rugby, soccer, football, cricket, hockey, boxing, wrestling, skiing, martial arts and other physical sports. These sports involve rough play, a certain degree of danger and/or include equipment such as hard balls which, at speed, can most certainly cause irreversible damage your jaws/ teeth. There is also an increased risk of falling in some of these sports, which in turn could do considerable damage to your face.
Mouthguards offer protection against sporting injuries not just to the teeth but also to the jaw, lips and tongue. In the case of a sporting accident, they can protect your teeth from damage and jaw from fractures or dislocation.
Reasons to use a mouthguard during contact sports
According to the American Dental Association, 10-20% of all sports related injuries are maxillofacial injuries (physical trauma to the face including fractures of the jaw). It also found that more than 200,000 injuries are prevented each year by wearing a mouthguard during contact sports. This in itself makes a strong case for wearing mouthguards during contact or high-impact sports.
A mouthguard helps protect your teeth from chipping partially or breaking completely, and also prevents them from injuring your lips or tongue, in case of high impact. It could also save you from landing up with a fractured tooth or broken jaw..
And last but not the least, prevents you from painful and long restorative dental procedures.
Which type of mouthguard do I use for contact sports?
Stock mouthguards or boil-and-bite mouthguards are both good choices for protection when playing high-impact sports. Stock mouthguards are the cheapest of the lot, making them a viable option if you only need to wear them occasionally. They are available in different sizes and fit over your teeth (most brands cover only the top teeth).
However, boil-and-bite mouthguards have a better, tighter fit and are thus more likely to stay in place, making them a safer choice. These come in just one size that you can customize to fit your teeth – all you have to do is boil the mouthguard until it softens and then place it over your front teeth and bite down (hence the name).
The third – and the most expensive – option is to have a completely customized mouthguard made by your dentist using a mould of your teeth.
What happens if I don’t use a mouthguard while playing sports?
The National Youth Sports Foundation for Safety reports dental injuries as the most common type of orofacial injury sustained during participation in sports. Statistics state that an athlete is 60 times more likely to sustain damage to the teeth when not wearing a protective mouthguard. And in most cases, these injuries result in permanent damage to the oral structure of the jaw/ teeth which then requires medical intervention such as restorative dentistry.
‘Restorative dentistry’ involves the restoration of missing or damaged teeth, or oral and dental tissues. It involves fillings, crowns or caps and dental implants. Most restorative dentistry procedures are long-drawn and painful, and above all, expensive, yet are essential to keep the teeth properly aligned and to maintain good oral care. If sports (or other) dental-related injuries are not cared for and fixed properly, they could lead to more serious problems such as plaque build-up and gingivitis (inflammation of the gums and gum disease).
Costs to keep in mind when undergoing restorative dentistry include consultation, anesthesia fees, the actual procedure itself, prescription medication and follow-up sessions, as it isn’t a one-time appointment. You will need to go for follow-up appointments sometimes for even up to a year to make sure your implant has properly fused into your bone; and there are no gum complications etc.
Can I wear a mouthguard if I have invisible braces or retainers?
The best part about invisible braces and retainers is that you can remove them at your convenience. So yes, it is still imperative you wear a mouthguard when playing any kind of contact sport, even if you are undergoing dental treatment with invisible braces or retainers. Simply remove them before putting on your mouthguard, and then put them back on again afterwards!
You might have to re-align/ re-mould/ replace your mouthguard after a few months as your teeth will straighten over time and hence the structure of your teeth and jawline will be different, but that is a small cost to pay over having a fractured jaw or no teeth at all!
On the contrary, if you wear traditional braces, you will need special, customized mouthguards to be made for when you play contact sports, which would be uncomfortable as well as expensive.
Smith, Wendy & Kracher, Connie. (1998). Sports-Related Dental Injuries and Sports Dentistry. Dental assistant (Chicago, Ill. : 1994). 67. 12-6, 40, 46.
Fact Sheet. Needham, MA: 1994. National Youth Sports Safety Foundation.