If you have ever played a contact sport, chances are you have worn a mouthguard. Mouthguards are used to prevent injury to the teeth, gums, lips, jaws, and soft facial tissues of athletes participating in sports that pose the greatest risk to their dental health. While these sports are typically only thought of as contact sports (such as baseball, basketball, soccer, wrestling, hockey, football, and boxing), things like gymnastics, cheerleading, and skateboarding often cause serious mouth injuries as well.
There are three types of mouthguards: stock, boil-and-bite, and custom. Stock mouthguards usually come in just small, medium, and large sizes. They are often bulky and ill-fitting and can make it very difficult to talk or breathe while wearing one. Boil-and-bite mouthguards are a little more adaptable. You buy the mouthguard at a sporting goods store, boil it until it's slightly soft, and then bite down to form it to your teeth. These are often made from thinner, less-than-durable materials and tend to tear after a short period of time. Custom mouthguards are made by your dentist to fit your mouth exactly. They are made from durable materials and are often twice as thick as a store-bought mouthguard. They can be made to fit over braces and work well to protect against damage to other expensive dental work (such as crowns).
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Custom mouthguards have been shown to not only protect the teeth and jaws better than store-bought alternatives, but also to help prevent concussions twice as well. According to a study published in General Dentistry, 8.3% of football players wearing store-bought mouthguards suffered brain injuries on the field, while only 3.6% of the players wearing custom mouthguards experienced concussions. This is because higher quality, custom mouthguards absorb the shock of a hit to the face much better than other mouthguards. The thickness and level of stability also help protect the jaw and neck, stabilizing the head and preventing a more traumatic impact.
Of course, any mouthguard is better than no mouthguard at all. Many organized sports demand that athletes wear a mouthguard, but those who choose not to are putting themselves at a great risk for serious injury both to their mouth and brain. Always do everything you can to prevent injuries while playing sports, including wearing at least some form of mouthguard to protect your teeth. However, keep in mind that the cost of purchasing a custom mouthguard really is worth it in the long run. Not only will it fit better and allow for better talking and breathing than a store-bought alternative, it will do so much more for protecting against devastating injuries.