My son plays on his high school football team and has always worn the type of mouthguard that softens to conform to the shape of his mouth after boiling in water. This summer, several of his teammates went to the dentist for custom-fitted mouthguards. They are more expensive, but I’m willing to pay the extra cost if they provide more protection. Are they worth it?
Mouthguards and face masks prevent more than 200,000 oral and facial injuries each year, reports the American Dental Association, who, in conjunction with the American Academy of Pediatrics, recently launched their annual back-to-school campaign urging the use of mouthguards for young athletes, especially for those participating in activities with lots of player-to-player contact. At the amateur level, almost all states require mouthguards for boxing, football, ice hockey, men’s lacrosse, and women’s field hockey. Many dentists and the Academy for Sports Dentistry recommend mouthguards for children and adults participating in any sport or recreational activity involving contact or collisions, such as soccer, basketball, baseball, and wrestling, and also for some individual sports that carry a high risk of injury to the face and mouth, such as skateboarding and rollerblading.
Mouthguards typically cover the upper teeth, cushioning blows to the mouth and substantially lowering the risk of breaking, chipping, or dislodging teeth. In addition, use of a mouthguard reduces the possibility of brain damage caused by concussion. There are three types of mouthguards:
- Stock protectors are preformed and tend not to fit well, which lessens safety benefits. They are often bulky and young athletes must hold them in place by clenching their teeth, which can make breathing and talking difficult.
- Mouth-formed or boil-and-bite mouthguards (the kind your son has been wearing) are relatively inexpensive, available at most sporting goods stores, and are the type of protection schools and athletic associations most often purchase.
- Custom-fitted mouthguards are made by a dentist using impressions of your child’s teeth. The individualized fit addresses any specific dental issues your child may have — braces, missing teeth or teeth that are still growing in, and previous dental injuries. The plastic or rubber guards are more expensive than other types of mouth protection and the exact cost depends on your child’s specific needs.
And yes, according to a number of studies, including a recent article in the Sports Medicine, custom-fitted mouthguards offer the best fit and protection, interfere least with breathing and talking, and last longer than less expensive types of protection. Custom-fitted mouthguards generally cost between $50 and $200. They should be checked for wear at least once a year and usually need replacement about as often as regularly used athletic shoes.
A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise investigated injuries among college basketball players and found players not wearing custom-fitted mouth protection were 5 times more likely to sustain a dental injury.
Dental injuries can be permanently disfiguring, and immediate treatment for serious injuries can cost as much as $2000. Complete loss of a tooth can result in frequent visits to the dentist, lifetime dental care costs of $10,000 to $15,000, and a higher risk of other dental problems, such as periodontal disease, the National Youth Sports Foundation for the Prevention of Athletic Injuries reports.
Do talk to your dentist or orthodontist about choosing the best protection for your child, based on age, particular sport, and current dentition. For example, although mouthguards usually cover only the upper teeth, if your son has braces on his lower teeth, your dentist may recommend protection for those teeth as well.
Internet resources with more information on mouthguards include the American Dental Association,www.ada.org; the Academy for Sports Dentistry, www.sportsdentistry-asd.org; and Sports Dentistry Online, www.sportsdentistry.com/.