Knowing how to prevent face and mouth injuries is essential, especially if you’re involved in organized sports or other types of recreational activities. Similarly, if you grind your teeth during your sleep without protecting them, you may develop headaches or cause your teeth to wear, which can increase your risk of tooth fracture or loss.

Mouthguards are meant to minimize the risk of injuries to your:

  • Tongue
  • Lips
  • Gums
  • Jaw
  • Face
  • Teeth

They typically cover your upper teeth and help protect the soft tissues of your lips, tongue and cheek lining. Since your top teeth stick out more, they may take the impact of trauma. Your bottom teeth are further back, so they have more built-in protection than your two front teeth.

Candidates for Mouthguards

With contact sports, there’s always a risk of dental injuries, such as fractured jaws. Making a mouthguard a part of your standard athletic equipment at an early age can be beneficial in protecting your mouth and teeth from injuries.

Athletes who play contact sports, such as the ones listed below, may benefit from wearing mouthguards:

  • Boxing
  • Football
  • Basketball
  • Ice hockey
  • Field hockey
  • Lacrosse
  • Soccer

This doesn’t mean people who don’t play contact sports can’t benefit from wearing a mouthguard. People who participate in non-contact sports, like gymnastics and skating, might also decide to wear them, too. Plus, all adults and children could benefit from wearing a mouthguard if they grind their teeth at night.

Braces and Mouthguards

Contrary to popular belief, people with braces can wear mouthguards. A hit to the face could while a child is playing or participating in sports can damage orthodontic braces or other fixed dental appliances, too. A guard for the mouth also provides a barrier between the braces and lips and cheeks to help avoid injuries.

Because an injury to your mouth or face could result in damage to the braces, a custom-fit mouthguard may offer protection. A dentist can custom create a mouthguard to potential provide individualized protection.

Custom vs. Over-the-Counter Mouthguard: Which Is Best for Me?

The answer to this question depends on a few factors, including:

  • Your personal preferences
  • Comfort level
  • Price range
  • Materials preferences
  • Desired or needed protection level

The following information may help to clarify which type of mouthguard may be the right one for you.

Custom-Made Mouthguards

You may decide to use custom-fitted mouthguards for teeth grinding at night or during sports. The dentist creates them depending on how you intend on using them.

Dentists create custom-fit mouthguards from thermoplastic material based on a mold they take of your teeth and mouth. The dentist customizes these mouthguards type to personalize them for your mouth, but they all comprise of thick plastic.

The dentist can adjust the mouthguard’s thickness depending on how much you clench and grind your teeth so you can achieve a natural fit without having to make any adjustments yourself. Dentists typically fit mouthguards for your upper teeth — however, you can also have a mouthguard fitted for your bottom teeth.

Custom-made guards are meant to be durable and have a snug shape, helping to eliminate unwanted movement. They hug each of your teeth closely. The dentist can make custom-fit mouthguards thicker if needed to reduce and alleviate jaw pressure for those people who violently clench, grind or gnash their teeth.

How Are Custom-Fit Mouthguards Made and Fitted?

First, the dentist will take an impression of your teeth to create your custom-fit guard. They may use dental putty to form to our teeth crevices to create a precise mold of your smile.

The dentist may either send the mold to the lab or use it directly in their office to create your mouthguard. They layer superheated plastic to the exact requirements to make the structure. Then, they cool the dental wear to help its durability.

What Are the Benefits of a Custom Guard?

Some of the benefits of a custom dental guard include the following three perks.

1. Individualized Fit

Custom dental guards are designed to keep you from grinding your teeth since your dentist custom fits them to your teeth. Depending on how severe your grinding is, the custom-fitted mouthguard can vary in thickness. Custom-fitted mouthguards may provide you with better jaw muscle positioning and alleviate jaw strain to potentially offer you long-term prevention of grinding and teeth clenching during the day and night. Dentists can individualize the design for most types of sport.

2. Added Protection

Dentists consider custom-fit guards to offer protection to teeth, gums and mouth. According to a study published in Digital Journalcustom-fit guards outperformed mouthguards bought in a store in reducing the chances of a concussion.

In a study involving six high school football teams and 412 players, 220 of the players (three teams) wore custom-fit guards, and the other 192 players (three teams) wore the store bought over-the-counter guards they chose for themselves. All the players wore the exact say football helmet style.

The study showed in the over-the-counter guard group, 8.3 percent of the players suffered a concussion or other MTBI injuries. The rate was only 3.6 percent for the players wearing the custom-fit guards.

3. Increased Comfort

The more unobtrusive and comfortable a guard is, the more likely it is that the individual will use it. Dentists don’t fit over-the-counter mouthguards to the individual’s mouth, which may make them less comfortable than dentist-made mouthguards. Plus, when a guard isn’t comfortable, the individual is more likely to chew it, which can reduce its thickness over time and make it less protective.

Other benefits of custom-fit mouthguards include that they are:

  • Tasteless
  • Tear-resistant
  • Resilient
  • Odorless

When you opt for a custom-fit guard, you may realize that it fits snug and comfortable in your mouth without cutting the insides of your gums or cheeks.

What Are the Drawbacks of a Custom Guard?

The price of a custom-fit mouthguard seems to be the biggest drawback for most people, as it may cost more than an over-the-counter mouthpiece.

You may have to wait to receive your mouthguard, whereas a storebought one is in your possession the minute you purchase it. Since the dentist has to make the mold from your impressions and create the guard, it could take a few weeks before you receive it.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Mouthguards

Individuals may choose to use over-the-counter (OTC) mouthguards, often know as boil-and-bite mouthguards, for two primary reasons:

  1. To protect their teeth from injury while playing sports
  2. To protect their teeth from grinding while sleeping

Off-the-shelf sports and teeth grinding mouthguards are comprised of a thinner, pliable plastic. These mouthguards are often available in large, medium and small options, and sized according to age. You take over-the-counter mouthguards right out of the package premade and already shaped into a preformed, smooth u-shaped tray. After boiling them, letting them cool a bit and then biting down into the half-melted plastic, OTC guards mold themselves to your tooth line shape.

These guards cover your whole top row of teeth and prevent your lower and upper teeth from grinding into one another. Before your mouthguard is comfortable enough to wear and work properly, you need to fit it to your specific set of teeth.

How Over-the-Counter (OTC) Mouthguards Are Fitted

Most over-the-counter mouthguards fit through a “boil and bite” method, meaning you will first boil the mouthguard to make the plastic flexible and soft. You will then place it in your mouth carefully once it’s heated and gently bite down on it. The plastic for over-the-counter mouthguards is thin, which may be a downside of these types of guards. It’s too easy for you to bite right through the plastic and ruin it when molding the guard to your teeth.

Once you cool the mouthguard, to avoid gum irritation, you may need to make some minor adjustments with a razor blade or pair of sharp scissors.

What Are the Benefits of an Over-the-Counter Mouthguard?

You can buy OTC mouthguards at most drugstores, pharmacies and online retailers. But, if this is your first time buying an over-the-counter guard, you should consult with a professional pharmacist for advice.

OTC mouthguards are:

  • Easy to purchase
  • Affordable
  • Fairly quick to fit

What Are the Drawbacks of an Over-the-Counter Mouthguard?

While OTC mouthguards use a thinner type of plastic, many people find it too thick to sleep comfortably with. Other drawbacks include:

  • You may not be able to fit it to your mouth precisely
  • It may not provide you with optimal protection
  • It may interfere with breathing
  • It may only stay in place when you close your mouth

There’s also a higher chance you will more frequently remove and potentially misplace a boil-and-bite mouthguard since it may not fit precisely to your mouth. This type of mouthguard is bulky and foamy and has a chance of coming loose or falling out of your mouth during physical activity.

Just like an over-the-counter mouthguard may impact your breathing, it could also muffle your speech. You may need to replace them more often than a custom-fitted mouthpiece, too, because they can be less durable. Plus, since many over-the-counter mouthguards will look similar to others, you could end up taking home another person’s guard by mistake.

According to the Academy of General Dentistry’s clinical journal General Dentistry’s study, high school football players who wore an OTC mouthguard bought at a store were more than twice as likely to end up with a concussion or mild traumatic brain injury than players who wore a custom-made mouthguard that properly fit their mouth.

How Effective Are Over-the-Counter Mouthguards?

When you use an over-the-counter mouthguard for sleeping or sports, its effectiveness depends on several factors, including:

  • The type and amount of force applied to your face (i.e., sticks, pucks, elbows)
  • The intensity in which you clench or grind your teeth together
  • How thick the mouthguard is
  • If you molded it correctly after you boiled it
  • If you dislodge it while sleeping
  • If it stays on your teeth, even when you open your mouth

Wearing an over-the-counter mouth guard to protect your teeth from grinding or injury may be better than having no protection at all. But, because OTC mouthguards are not custom-fitted, your teeth are no longer protected if you move your jaw while sleeping and dislodge the mouthguard.

If you press down with your teeth hard, you could break the mouthguard or bite through the plastic, leaving your mouth and teeth unprotected. If you have a habit of grinding your teeth, you may find a custom-fit mouthguard from a dentist to be a comfortable option for your mouth and teeth.

Which Makes the Most Sense for Me?

Many risks are associated with mouth and teeth injuries. The National Institutes of Health published a 2014 report pointing out 13 percent of all dental trauma in children is due to sports injuries, and boys have a 50 percent higher chance of being injured than girls.

The choice between an over-the-counter night guard vs. dentist-fit mouthguard is ultimately up to you. You need to weigh the pros and cons of each to decide which one makes the most sense to you.

Since dentists construct custom-fit mouthguards precisely for your teeth and mouth, they may offer you both added comfort and protection. Over-the-counter guards may not be comfortable for you or provide you with the protection you’re seeking.

Since OTC guards are constructed of flexible plastic, many factors will wear the plastic down faster than the stronger material custom-made guards use. Store-bought mouthguards may also lose their shape, unlike custom-fit guards, which are designed to be durable. However, you may still need to replace custom-fit guards every few years depending on their degree of wear and tear and if there have been any changes to your teeth or mouth.

Caring for Your Mouthguard

Regardless of which mouthguard you choose, Alberta Dental Association (ADA) says you need to use cold water and rinse your mouthguard off every time you use it and let it air dry. Mouthguards can attract bacteria, so it’s essential to clean and disinfect them regularly.

You can use antiseptic mouthwash occasionally to clean it. You may also use a toothbrush and toothpaste to clean it or cleaning tablets.

Other tips to help you care for your mouthguard include to:

  • Store your guard in a perforated, firm plastic container
  • Keep your stored guard away from any heat source — such as hot water, the sun or heating vents — small children and pets
  • Regularly check for holes or tears in your mouthguard since they can weaken the mouthguard and irritate your mouth
  • Replace your mouthguard right away if you notice any holes or cracks
  • Bring your mouthguard to your dental appointments for inspection
  • Transport your guard in an adequately vented, sturdy container that keeps it dry and reduces the risk of bacteria growing

It’s important to talk with your dentist to decide when you should replace your mouthguard. However, if it’s showing signs of wear and tear, doesn’t fit well or there’s damage to it, replace it right away. Since their mouths are still changing and growing, children and teens may have to replace their guards more frequently.

Contact Dental Choice to Get Your Custom-Fit Mouthguard Today

Whether you are contemplating buying a store-bought, OTC mouthguard or a custom-fit mouthguard, consult with a dentist and discuss your specific needs first. If you’re looking for a custom-fitted mouthguard, contact Dental Choice.

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