Mouth Guards: Types and Functions

  • Dec 28 2017

Is it worth the constant effort to get my child to wear his mouth guard?

There is an old saying, usually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Most of us, no doubt, could come up with a list of other things that we feel to be pretty certain. Questioning the benefit of requiring a child to wear a mouth guard leads to a perfect example: it is certain that they are not going to want to do it. So, considering the constant struggle to enforce the practice, is it worth it?

Mouth guards, which are made of plastic or a laminate material, come in different types and are designed for different functions. The three basic types, differentiated by how they are made, are:

Stock mouth protectors – these are pre-made and basically ready to wear right out of the package. This makes them relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain, but they cannot be adjusted to the individual’s mouth or bite. This can lead to breathing difficulties and interfere with speech patterns. They also offer little in the way of impact protection and may or may not help with grinding, sleep apnea, snoring or other issues. Not surprisingly, dental professionals do not recommend them.

Boil and bite mouth protectors – these are made from a thermoplastic material, which is a polymer with the properties of becoming pliable or moldable at a specific temperature and solidifying when cooled. Boil and bite protectors can also be purchased at retail outlets. They are simply immersed in hot water to soften and then placed in the mouth and pressed to form a mold around the teeth. This does provide for a better fit than stock mouth protectors.

Custom-fitted mouth protectors – as the name suggests, these are individually designed by your dentist and professionally created specifically to fit your mouth and address relevant issues. Obviously, a custom-made guard will be the most comfortable and provide the best protection, but it will also be the mostly costly.

Mouth guards are recommended for a variety of reasons. Bruxism, which is the official term for teeth grinding, usually, but not always, occurs during sleep and is an issue for adults as well as children. Without some sort of intervention, it can lead to worn and cracked teeth, jaw and facial pain, earaches and severe headaches the next day. Sleep apnea and snoring are also nighttime issues that can have serious consequences. Mouth guards specifically designed to be worn at night can help alleviate these symptoms.

However, there is no area where mouth guards play a more significant role than their use in preventing or lessening the injuries suffered during sporting activities. It’s not often that you can get everyone to agree, but the major dental professional organizations, the Academy for Sports Dentistry (ASD), American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), and the American Dental Association (ADA) urge everyone involved with sports, especially youth sports, to be proactive in preventing injuries to the teeth, mouth, cheeks, tongue and jaw by using mouth guards. According to the ADA, a third of all dental injuries are related to sports and mouth guards could prevent more that 200,000 of them each year.

So, while consistent monitoring may be required, mouth guards are certainly worth the effort. Some of the resistance to wearing them may be due to poor fit. Be sure to consult with your dental professional for the initial design and any issues.

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Categories: Mouth Guards