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The Importance of Mouth Guards

Mouth GuardsMouth guards are appliances for the mouth that protect the teeth and gums of the wearer. In most instances, mouth guards are used during physically demanding activities such as contact sports or when working in a hazardous environment that might result in a blow to the face.

Mouth injuries are particularly common in children, with one in three boys and one in four girls sustain a mouth injury by the time they complete high school. A mouth injury can be to the lips, gums, teeth, or inside of the cheeks and often results in the need to see a dentist, so they can properly treat the problem. In many instances, wearing a mouth guard could have prevented the injury or minimized the damage. Some student athletes resist wearing mouth guards because they don't like the way they affect their appearance, but these same students will be even less enamored of their looks after a few teeth are knocked out!

Mouth guards generally fit inside the mouth but offer protection to the whole area, including the jaw, tongue, teeth, lips and, to some extent, the cheeks. A blow to the face with enough force can tear soft tissue, break or dislodge teeth, and throw the jaw out of alignment. Mouth guards help protect you by preventing the sharp surfaces of your teeth from ripping into the delicate tissues of the interior of your mouth and cheeks. If you're wearing braces or a bridge, a mouth guard can also cover these devices and keep them from damaging surrounding tissue. Mouth guards also minimize the effects of concussions and other head injuries, particularly those sustained in contact sports.

Mouth Guard Styles

Most mouth guards are made of pliable plastic that fit over and around your teeth and fit all or partially inside the mouth. There are variations in style and material depending on what your needs are, but in general they will be one of three common designs:

• Custom fitted mouth guards are made by a dentist, providing excellent protection because they are custom molded to your teeth and mouth. These offer excellent protection to your mouth and jaw line.

• For a fit that's still quite good, the most common mouth guards are made of a plastic that is softened in hot water, allowing you to mold the guard to your teeth for a secure fit. Most student athletes use this form of guard.

• Pre-shaped mouth guards are the least attractive option because there is such variation in the size of the teeth and the shape of the mouth between individuals. These ready-made mouth guards can be uncomfortable and are knocked out of place easily because they often don't fit well.

Caring For Mouth Guards

If you're using a mouth guard, you'll need to keep it clean so that you don't end up with bacteria or other contaminants on it that can contribute to gum disease. Any time you're putting something foreign into your mouth, it's crucial that it be properly cleaned.

Each time you remove your mouth guard, wash it with warm, soapy water and allow it to dry naturally. Too much heat, such as a hair dryer, can break down the guard material. Soaking mouth guards in antiseptic mouth wash will also kill germs and may make wearing it more palatable.

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