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What Type of Mouthguard Offers the Best Protection?

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Updated October 07, 2009

What Type of Mouthguard Offers the Best Protection? Photo: Siri Stafford / Getty Images
Question: What Type of Mouthguard Offers the Best Protection?
The type of mouthguard you chose to wear could impact the level of protection you will receive when involved in an accident related to contact sports play. According to Dr. Bill Blair, a dentist and the current president of the NHL Team Dentists Association, there are three main mouthguards for you to consider wearing when participating in sporting activities.
Answer: When choosing a mouthguard, consider how each of the following mouthguard types would benefit your situation before making your final decision.

  • The stock mouthguard is typically the most inexpensive mouthguard available in most sporting goods stores, yet it offers the least amount of protection. You are unable to adjust a stock mouthguard to conform to the teeth; therefore they are likely to either slip off the mouth if too big, or pinch the gingiva, causing discomfort. Either situation could be rather distracting for the player and chances are the mouthguard will find its way into the equipment bag on the bench. Dr. Blair says, "A mouthguard that is sitting on the bench or sitting in a hockey bag isn't going to provide any protection."

  • "Boil and Bite" mouthguards are available in sporting goods stores, and are also considered relatively inexpensive. The difference between a stock mouthguard and a boil and bite mouthguard is substantial. Hot water is all you need to adjust the plastic comfortably around the teeth. Keep in mind that forming a mouthguard correctly around the teeth and gums is not always as easy as it may seem. As Dr. Blair points out, "It works much better if you have a dentist help you fit it. I have seen some pretty rotten looking [homemade] mouthguards."

  • Custom-fit mouthguards are obtained through your dental office. Available in as little as one week, the first appointment involves taking an impression of the maxillary teeth to be sent to the dental laboratory where the mouthguard will be fabricated. Dr. Blair notes that a triple laminate mouthguard offers the necessary protection, yet is thin enough to allow for optimum air intake, a critical necessity for the players. Custom mouthguards allow for slight adjustments as requested by the players to satisfy their preference. However, Dr. Blair stresses that in order to have optimum protection, the mouthguard should involve all the maxillary teeth extending from molar to molar. Previous guidelines suggested that a mouthguard made to extend from one maxillary cuspid to the other, would provide sufficient coverage. After examination, it was found that this type of mouthguard did not protect the back teeth when the player forcefully clenches during an impact, resulting in the possible fracture of the back teeth. Extending the mouthguard to cover all of the teeth may cause more bulk and may take longer for the player to become used to its wear.

One thing is clear regardless of the type of mouthguard you choose, "The quality of the protection is totally related to the quality of the product you are putting in your mouth," and perhaps most important is Dr. Blair's final word on mouthguard wear, "Anybody that participates in sports, especially your contact sports, should be wearing mouthguards at any age level. Even non-contact sports should consider it. What you have to do is instill the idea of wearing a mouthguard down at the "pee wee" [level] or even younger."

Hockey players, particularly those in the NHL, are role models for thousands of young hockey enthusiasts. Craig Conroy, center for the NHL team the Calgary Flames stresses, "If kids wear [mouthguards] right away and then get used to them all the way through [the ranks], its no big deal. It is just like wearing the face masks and all the other stuff; just wear them when you are little and you will never know the difference.”
Warren Peters, also a center for the Calgary Flames, echoes the same sentiment, "Today they make them so thin and they fit your teeth so good there really isn't a reason not too, for anyone that is coming up and playing because once you get used to it, it will just be second nature. It will be like putting on another piece of gear."

Sources:

Shawn Watson Interview with Craig Conroy. March 31, 2009.

Shawn Watson Interview with Dr. Bill Blair. March 20, 2009.

Shawn Watson Interview with Warren Peters. March 31, 2009.

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