Particularly if you or your child plays contact sports, you likely are familiar with mouth guards. In fact, many contact sport require players to wear mouth guard while playing. But if you want to make sure you stay ahead of any potential injuries, it’s a good idea to know what mouth guards will do (and what they won’t do).
A Brief History of Mouthguards
While the mouth guard has become a fixture in today’s world of contact sports, it has not always been that way. The mouth guard was first called a “gum shield,” and it was developed by Woolf Krause, a dentist based in London, in 1890. The gum shield was initially developed to help boxers avoid suffering cuts to the lips. Krause’s son, who was also a boxer, helped to refine the design, and it began to gain popularity.
Since the mouthguard was first used in the U.S. in the early 1900s, it has diversified significantly. Now, you can find guards optimized for virtually for any contact sport, but the purpose of the mouth guard remains the same–to cushion the teeth,lips, and other oral structures from injury.
What is the Purpose of Mouthguards?
It’s estimated that about a third of all mouth injuries (including injuries to the lips, cheeks, teeth, and gums) are caused by sports. Mouth guards are designed to cushion the teeth, resulting in a reduced risk of injury to the mouth. Without a mouth guard, the following injuries are somewhat common in contact sports:
- chipped teeth or crowns
- jaw fractures
- injuries to lips
- injuries to teeth
- root damage in teeth
Generally speaking, while mouth guards can prevent a host of expensive and painful mouth injuries, they are very inexpensive and easy to use. Mouth guards are available at many drugstores, and most are made of soft plastic. To use, you simply boil the mouth guard according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Then, after it has cooled adequately, you bite down to create an impression of your teeth.
Of course, using mouth guards becomes complicated if you have braces or other orthodontics. If this is your situation, many mouth guard manufacturers make guards designed to be compatible with braces. If you have any doubts, be sure to talk to your orthodontist or other dental professional.
What Do Mouth Guards Not Do?
Mouth guards are an essential piece of equipment for most contact sports. And while they prevent many oral injuries, there are some sports-related injuries they do not protect against.
Namely, despite rumors to the contrary, mouth guards do not protect against concussions. The reason why is fairly straightforward–mouth guards are designed to cushion the teeth and lips against blows, but in the case of a hard hit to the head, a concussion is still very much possible.
Of course, if you or another athlete suffers a hit to the head, a mouth guard may still work to mitigate the damages. For instance, if you are hit hard, your teeth may hit against each other or against your cheeks. With a mouth guard, you may still suffer the consequences of a concussion, but the cushion given by your mouth guard is likely to protect your mouth from the impact.
That said, if you are hit hard in the head while wearing a mouth guard, seeing a doctor is a good idea. While many oral injuries, including chips to the teeth and cuts to the cheeks, are immediately visible, many concussions involve symptoms that develop over time.
Therefore, while mouth guards may help to mitigate the damage done when an athlete suffers a hit to the head or face, they are unlikely to prevent concussions on their own.
What Sort of Impacts Do Mouthguards Protect Against?
Generally speaking, a well-fitted mouth guard will protect against three main types of impact. They are as follows:
- jaw fracture
- Trauma to the jaw joint
- internal oral injuries
While jaw fractures may sound somewhat dire, the fact is that, without the shock absorption afforded by a quality mouth guard, fracture to the jaw is highly probable. And while uncomplicated fractures may heal on their own, this type of injury may jeopardize your teeth and overall health.
Trauma to the jaw joint is another issue. If you have ever suffered from TMJ syndrome, you know how taxing it can be to have your jaw joint compromised. For those who suffer a trauma to this joint, talking, eating, and even breathing may be negatively impacted. Having a properly-cushioned mouth guard will help absorb shock and protect against joint injury.
Oral injuries are common in contact sports–after all, the first mouth guards were developed to protect boxers. And while a mouth guard is far from guaranteed to protect you from all oral injuries, having cushioning in between your teeth and between your teeth and cheeks can go a long way toward protecting you from a major oral injury.
If it is possible to get a custom-made mouth guard, these types of guards may further protect against injury. This is because they are designed specifically for your physiology, and they may afford you additional protection in the areas you need it most.
What If I Suffer an Injury Even With a Mouth Guard?
Unfortunately, even with the best of precautionary care, it is possible to suffer a serious oral injury. If you or your child has been affected by a sports-related oral injury, a competent periodontic surgeon may be able to help. Dr. Marc Lazare is a qualified and experienced dentist who offers general and cosmetic dentistry services including mouthguards in New York. If you have suffered an oral injury and are not sure what to do, visit www.drmarclazare.com to learn more about the practice or to schedule a consultation.