Mouth guards, also known as sports guards or athletic mouth protectors, are crucial pieces of equipment for any child participating in potentially injurious recreational or sporting activities. Fitting snugly over the upper teeth, guards protect the entire oral region from traumatic injury, preserving both the esthetic appearance and the health of the smile. In addition, guards are sometimes used to prevent tooth damage in children who grind (brux) their teeth at night.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) in particular, advocates for the use of dental guards during any sporting or recreational activity. Most store-bought guards cost fewer than ten dollars, making them a perfect investment for every parent.
How can mouth guards protect my child?
The majority of sporting organizations now require participants to routinely wear guards. Though guards are primarily designed to protect the teeth, they can also vastly reduce the degree of force transmitted from a trauma impact point (jaw) to the central nervous system (base of the brain). In this way, guards help minimize the risk of traumatic brain injury, which is especially important for younger children.
Guards also reduce the prevalence of the following injuries:
- Cheek lesions
- Gum and soft tissue injuries
- Jawbone fractures
- Lip lesions
- Neck injuries
- Tongue lesions
- Tooth fractures
What type of mouth guard should I purchase for my child?
Though there are literally thousands of guard brands, most brands fall into three major categories: stock mouth guards, boil and bite guards, and customized mouth guards.
Some points to consider when choosing a guard include:
- How much money is available to spend?
- How often does the child play sports?
- What kind of sport does the child play? (Basketball and baseball tend to cause the most oral injuries).
In light of these points, here is an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of each type of guard:
Stock mouth guards – These guards can be bought directly off the shelf and immediately fitted into the child’s mouth. The fit is universal (one-size-fits-all), meaning that that the guard doesn’t adjust. Stock mouth guards are very cheap, easy to fit, and quick to locate at sporting goods stores. Pediatric dentists favor this type of guard least, as it provides minimal protection, obstructs proper breathing and speaking, and tends to be uncomfortable.
Boil and bite mouth guards – These guards are usually made from thermoplastic and are easily located at most sporting goods stores. First, the thermoplastic must be immersed in hot water to make it pliable, and then it must be pressed on the child’s teeth to create a custom mold. Boil and bite guards are slightly more expensive than stock guards but tend to offer more protection, feel more comfortable in the mouth, and allow for easy speech production and breathing.
Customized mouth guards – These guards offer the greatest degree of protection, and are custom-made by the dentist. First, the dentist makes an impression of the child’s teeth using special material, and then the guard is constructed over the mold. Customized guards are more expensive and take longer to fit, but are more comfortable, orthodontically correct, and fully approved by the dentist.
If you have questions or concerns about choosing a guard for your child, please contact your pediatric dentist.