Mouth Guards and Sports


Many sports include some risk of physical injury, and included in that risk is the chance that teeth will be injured. The primary means of preventing such dental injuries are mouth guards. Also called “sports guards”, or “athletic mouth protectors”, these devices are important protection for competitors in many sports. Where the risk of mouth injury is particularly high sports governing bodies will often require such protection.
Bobby Clarke

Older hockey fans will remember the toothless captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, Bobby Clarke, as the picture boy for dental injury in hockey, but other sports such as baseball, football, boxing, rugby, lacrosse are also sources of dental trauma.

The first mouth guards were probably used by boxers, and in the early 20th-century reusable mouth guards were developed. Originally seem as an unfair advantage and outlawed in boxing, they had however become commonplace by the 1930s. Other sports followed gradually, and through the 1950s and 1960s mouth guard use increased. Today the American Dental Association recommends mouth guards for 29 different sports. Many other similar organizations, such as the Canadian Dental Association and the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association have similar positions and sometimes very informative papers on the topic.

What do mouth guards do?

Aside from protecting teeth from damage from impacts, mouth guards also give increased protection to the gums and jaw. Moreover, by distributing impact loads, mouth guards can reduce the force of an impact from being transmitted to the neck, cheekbone, lips, and tongue. In this way, mouth guards can also reduce the risk of concussion and cosmetic damage.

Types of mouth guards

Mouth guards are available in a range of types with varying costs and efficacy: the general types are “off-the-shelf” (ready made), “boil and bite” (mouth adapted), and custom made.

Off the shelf mouth guards

Off-the-shelf mouth guards are the least expensive, poorest-fitting, least comfortable, and offer the least protection. At best, they are rudimentary protection. They offer little adjustment to the wearer, usually only being modifiable by trimming material with a knife or scissors.

Stock mouthguard

“Boil and bite” mouth guards

Boil-and-bite mouth guards provide generally adequate protection but without as comfortable a fit as that of custom-made guards. Boil-and-bite guards are made of a thermo-pliable material and the initial fitting involves heating the mouth guard and then taking an impression of one’s teeth while the material is still pliable. Usually made of ethylene-vinyl acetate, boil-and-bite guards are the most commonplace option for amateur sportspeople.

Boil and bite mouthguard

Custom fitted mouth guards

Custom fitted mouth guards are the best option, if they fit the budget. A custom fitted guard is based on moulds taken of a particular user’s mouth, so the fit should be very close to the wearer’s dentition. This enables the guard to be more comfortable in the mouth, and often smaller than less expensive mouth guard options. A martial arts competitor, Matthew Corley, gives a good [personal account][] of his experience with a custom guard that describes the benefits as he sees them. He says his guard:

Custom mouthguard

“Fits great and once you’ve put it in it’s not going anywhere no matter what you do. It is tight enough that you will probably have to use your fingers to get it out once it’s in place. I was able to talk clearly with it in and it has a low-enough profile that I barely notice it while training.”

In some cases custom mouth guards also offer the option of customized colours and logos, as shown in Matthew Chorley’s guard. Custom mouth guards can be vacuum-formed or pressure-laminated, with the second manufacturing technique providing the longest-lasting stable shape.

Mouth guards, in combination with other appropriate protective gear for your sport, can greatly reduce the risk of injury. If you are opting for custom-made mouth guards, a dentist can assist, taking moulds of your teeth and gums that will be used by the guard manufacturer to make the guard itself. Contact the Sherway Gardens Dental Centre for more information on getting your mouth guard fitted.

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