When you're taking care of the back to school supplies, one thing you shouldn't overlook is a sports mouthguard. Mouthguards create a barrier between your child's teeth and impacts. They help to absorb blows and reduce the risk and severity of trauma and injuries.
Whether your child plays rugby, hockey or any other activity that puts their mouth at risk of injury, a mouthguard can offer vital protection. It could prevent their teeth from getting chipped, cracked or knocked out altogether.
Mouthguards aren't just important for kids either, and they aren't only for sports. Dentists may recommend a custom mouthguard or splint to help with a wide range of conditions. Read more about mouthguards for:
- Sports injuries
- Teeth grinding and clenching (bruxism)
- Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)
- Protecting dental veneers
A fit and active lifestyle can benefit people of all ages, but some sports and activities involve more risks than others. It's important to be aware of these dangers and to take appropriate steps to help protect yourself or your child.
All children, teenagers and adults who play sports where there is a risk of injury to their teeth are advised to wear a sports mouthguard. These can protect the teeth as well as the jaw, tongue, lips and other parts of the mouth and face, especially during contact sports such as rugby, soccer and hockey.
A study of junior rugby players in the Gold Coast by the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine found that more than half of players (53.8%) received injuries to their face or teeth when playing sport. However, only 68.2% of players wore mouthguards while playing, and usually not during training.
If your child doesn't wear a mouthguard, there's a higher risk that they may need emergency dental care to repair or replace damaged or missing teeth. Many schools and sport clubs now have mandatory mouthguard policies in place to lower these risks.
Besides the obvious contact sports, mouthguards can also offer protection during other sports and activities where there is a risk of falls or impacts with other players or equipment. This includes basketball and netball, cricket, cycling and skateboarding.
Teeth grinding and clenching (bruxism)
Do you grind or clench your teeth when you're sleeping, concentrating or angry? Involuntary grinding is a dental condition known as bruxism. If it's not treated, it can lead to tooth wear and damage or jaw problems such as TMJ disorders.
If you grind your teeth at night, your dentist may recommend wearing a night guard, also called an occlusal splint. This is an oral device similar to a mouthguard that's custom made to fit over your teeth and prevent them from touching during sleep.
A bruxism mouthguard protects your teeth from damage and can ease other bruxism symptoms. In some cases, wearing a night guard may be all that's needed to stop teeth grinding altogether, but this usually involves addressing the root cause of the problem rather than just the symptoms.
There can be many reasons for teeth grinding, including dealing with high levels of stress or anxiety, poor quality sleep and physical issues such as misaligned teeth or an uneven bite. Your dentist may be able to offer advice to help you prevent bruxism or they may refer you to other professionals who are suitably qualified and experienced to help you.
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)
Dentists may also recommend an oral appliance similar to a mouthguard to treat obstructive sleep apnoea. This is a sleep disorder in which the airway becomes blocked and interrupts normal breathing. This can cause the sufferer to wake up choking or gasping for air multiple times every night, affecting the quality of their sleep and with potentially serious consequences for health.
These sleep apnoea appliances, known as a mandibular advancement device or splint (MAD/MAS), fit over the teeth like a mouthguard and hold the lower jaw slightly forwards. This ensures that the throat remains open, so breathing can continue normally during sleep.
A splint is normally intended to provide temporary relief from sleep apnoea symptoms rather than being a permanent solution. It's also important to lower your risk factors for OSA where possible, which could involve improving your sleep hygiene, losing weight or avoiding smoking, alcohol and sleeping tablets. In severe cases, surgery may be required to remove excess or oversized tissues or enlarge the airways.
Protecting dental veneers
If you're not happy with the appearance of your smile, dental veneers may be an option to whiten, straighten, reshape or make other cosmetic changes to your teeth. Depending on the type of veneers you choose and your risk profile, your dentist may provide a night guard to protect them from being damaged while you're asleep.
Veneers are a new outer layer for teeth that may be custom made from porcelain or built up from composite resin. Composite veneers cost less than porcelain and involve fewer appointments, but they are also weaker and more vulnerable to damage. Porcelain veneers are tough, but may still be damaged by teeth grinding at night (bruxism).
Your dentist may recommend wearing a night guard if there's a risk of damage from bruxism. This may only be temporary while you get used to how your veneers feel or you may be advised to wear it every night.
Do I need a custom mouthguard?
Mouthguards are available from dentists as well as sports retailers and other stores, but only a mouthguard provided by a dentist is custom made for your teeth.
Even if you or your child are already using a boil-and-bite mouthguard from a store, you should consider upgrading to a custom mouthguard fitted by your dentist. Custom-fitted mouthguards are recommended by the Australian Dental Association and Sports Medicine Australia for offering greater protection from injuries.
Unlike mouthguards bought over the counter, custom mouthguards are designed by your dentist to fit exactly over your teeth. This offers a more secure seal against impacts and makes them more comfortable to wear than loose-fitting mouthguards. They also don't restrict breathing like generic mouthguards sometimes can, which can also affect athletic performance.
How is a custom mouthguard made?
If you decide that a custom mouthguard is the best option for your child, your dentist will explain what the process involves and how much a mouthguard costs so you can decide if it's the right choice.
To design your custom mouthguard, your dentist will take impressions (moulds) of your teeth to make sure of a perfect fit. These are sent off to a dental laboratory where your mouthguard will be manufactured from high quality materials and checked to ensure its quality.
Your mouthguard will normally arrive with your dentist within 1 to 2 weeks. They will check that it fits properly and feels comfortable and give you advice about how to use it safely and hygienically.
How to look after your mouthguard
Mouthguards are exposed to bacteria that will build up over time and may cause infections or bad breath, so it's important to clean them thoroughly after every use. You can clean a mouthguard using a mild soap and water, preferably applied with a soft toothbrush to make sure you clean all surfaces. Only use cold water, as heat may warp the mouthguard material and make it go out of shape.
If your mouthguard smells and you think it needs a deeper clean, your dentist can advise about appropriate cleaning products. These may include antibacterial mouthwash, baking soda to reduce odours or an over-the-counter denture cleaner.
Mouthguards should be stored in a protective case when not in use, away from direct sunlight and heat sources. You or your child should bring your mouthguard with you to your dental check-ups so your dentist will check that the mouthguard is still in good condition or if it needs to be replaced.
How often should you replace a mouthguard?
A child's mouthguard should last for up to several seasons. Your dentist may recommend replacing it every year or earlier if it's damaged or if their teeth or bite change shape as they continue to grow.
An adult mouthguard may last for longer, as the bite is less likely to change. Talk to your dentist if your mouthguard starts to feel uncomfortable or loose.
How much does a mouthguard cost?
A custom mouthguard costs more than one bought from a store, but this can help you avoid the higher cost of dental treatments to fix broken or missing teeth, not to mention avoiding pain and discomfort.
Your dentist will give you all the details about mouthguard costs during your consultation. They can also tell you about any payment plans they offer and whether you're eligible to make any claims.
Book a mouthguard fitting in Sydney CBD
Whether you need a mouthguard for sports, to stop you grinding your teeth or for other reasons, make an appointment with our dentists in Sydney CBD so we can discuss your options.
1. Kroon, Jeroen PhD; Cox, Julie A. BOralH; Knight, Jamelle E. BOralH; Nevins, Pia N. BOralH; Kong, William W. BOralH Mouthguard Use and Awareness of Junior Rugby League Players in the Gold Coast, Australia, Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine: March 2016 - Volume 26 - Issue 2 - p 128-132 doi: 10.1097/JSM.0000000000000206