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Protect your smile with a mouth guard


Mouth guards are important safety devices.  AP Photo/Phil Sandlin

Your smile is the first thing most people see when they meet you. Don’t give a bad first impression by letting your teeth get damaged. Wear a mouth guard to protect your pearly whites when participating in sports.

The mouth guard is an often overlooked, yet important piece of sports equipment. A properly fitted mouth guard can absorb energy, disperse impact, cushion contact between the upper and lower teeth, and keep the upper lip away from the sharp edges of the teeth. Mouth guards significantly reduce dental and oral soft tissue injuries. Also, mouth guards can be helpful in preventing jaw fractures, cerebral concussions, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) injuries.

Mouth guards are available in three basic types:

1. Stock or ready-made – this type of mouth guard is made of latex rubber or plastic and comes in sizes small, medium, and large. Since they are not formed around the teeth, constant pressure must be exerted to hold the mouth guard in place. Due to the bulky size, stock mouth guards often interfere with speech and breathing, and are easily ejected from the mouth. The stock mouth guards are the least favored among sports participants.

2. Mouth-formed – this type is the most popular type of mouth guard. The mouth-formed mouth guard is fitted by submerging the guard in boiling water for a specific amount of time and then placing the guard in the mouth to mold around the teeth. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. This type of guard is most frequently used because it is inexpensive, readily available, and has a loop strap for attachment to a face mask.

3. Custom-made – this type of mouth guard is the most effective. Custom-made mouth guards require fabrication by a dentist, making them more expensive. The dentist takes an impression of the teeth of the player and then makes a mold out of it. Custom-made mouth guards are more comfortable, resilient, odorless, tasteless, tear resistant, of uniform thickness, and have little effect on speaking, drinking, or breathing.

A mouth guard is required in all interscholastic and intercollegiate football, ice hockey, field hockey, and men’s and women’s lacrosse. The NCAA requires a yellow or readily-visible colored mouth guard that covers the upper teeth. The practice of cutting down mouth guards to cover only the front four teeth should not be tolerated. A cut down mouth guard cannot prevent many dental injuries and could become a choking hazard.

The American Dental Association recommends “that people of all ages use a properly fitted mouth guard in any sporting or recreational activity that may pose a risk of injury.” What would you rather pay for – a $3 mouth guard or a $600 dental bill to fix your broken teeth?

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