You might think that mouthguards should be used only by children who play contact sports such as basketball, football, boxing, soccer, ice hockey, lacrosse and field hockey. But even those who participate in non-contact sports — such as gymnastics — or recreational activity — such as skateboarding or mountain biking — can benefit from wearing a protective mouthguard.
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“It is important for kids who play sports to start wearing mouthguards from a young age so it becomes a routine and habit-formed,” says sports and exercise medicine physician Anne Rex, DO, FAOASM. “The mouthguard isn’t optional but regarded as any other piece of their essential equipment and uniform.”
There are many advantages to using a mouthguard. They help to limit the risk of mouth-related injuries to your child’s lips, tongue and soft tissues of the mouth. Mouth guards also help children avoid chipped or broken teeth, nerve damage to a tooth or even tooth loss.
They may also reduce the severity of concussion, Dr. Rex says. “While they don’t reduce the risk of getting a concussion in sports,” she says, “they help to redistribute forces from a blow to the head, which in turn can reduce the severity of a concussion.”
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What about braces?
Many parents want to know if their child can wear a mouthguard if he or she wears braces. The answer is yes! Since an injury to the face could damage orthodontic brackets or other fixed appliances, a properly fitted mouthguard may be particularly important for children who wear braces.
Your dentist or orthodontist can determine the mouthguard that will provide the best protection for your child’s mouth work. An important reminder: make sure your child does not wear a retainer or other removable appliance during any contact sports or high-intensity recreational activities.
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Three types of mouth guards
- Stock mouth protectors are preformed and come ready to wear. They are inexpensive and can be bought at most sporting goods stores and department stores. However, little can be done to adjust their fit, they are bulky and make breathing and talking difficult and they provide little or no protection. Dentists do not recommend their use.
- Boil and bite mouth protectors also can be bought at many sporting goods stores and may offer a better fit than stock mouth protectors. The “boil and bite” mouthguard is made from thermoplastic material. It is placed in hot water to soften, then placed in the mouth and shaped around the teeth using finger and tongue pressure.
- Custom-fitted mouth protectors are individually designed and made in a dental office or a professional laboratory based on your dentist’s instructions. First, your dentist will make an impression of your teeth and a mouthguard is then molded over the model using a special material. Due to the use of the special material and because of the extra time and work involved, this custom-made mouthguard is more expensive than the other types, but it provides the most comfort and best fit and protection.
Generally, mouthguards cover the upper teeth only, but in some instances (such as if you wear braces or another fixed dental appliance on your lower jaw), your dentist will make a mouthguard for the lower teeth as well. Your dentist can suggest the best mouthguard for your child. An effective mouthguard should be comfortable, resist tears, be durable and easy to clean, and should not restrict your child’s breathing or speech.
Mouthguards can also be used to prevent dental damage for a child who grinds his or her teeth at night.