“Mouthguard” is a word that encompasses many different types of dental appliances. Due to their wide range of uses, they are very common and provide wonderful benefits to those who wear them. This article will explain the different types and purposes of mouthguards. Read it carefully; there is a good chance you could need one!
What is a Mouthguard?
A mouthguard is a protective dental appliance that covers some or all of the teeth. Its goal is to protect the mouth and prevent damage to the teeth, gums, jawbone, muscles and jaw joints. Mouthguards are available both over-the-counter and through your dentist. They can have a one-size-fits-all generic approach or a custom fit.
Both over-the-counter mouthguards and professional dental appliances come in a variety of materials and configurations. The purpose of the mouthguard will determine its makeup and coverage.
Why are Mouthguards Important?
Mouthguards fall under the category of preventive dentistry because they serve to protect the structures of the mouth and prevent dental problems. The various types of mouthguards aim to prevent various problems that can arise. Wearing a mouthguard can literally save you thousands of dollars in dental treatment throughout your life.
Protecting your natural teeth is essential to great oral health. Yes, dentists can replace teeth with artificial prosthetics, but nothing is as good in appearance or function as natural teeth. We commonly see dental problems, like cracked teeth or sports injuries, that could have been prevented by wearing a mouthguard.
Who Should Wear a Mouthguard?
The easiest way to know whether you should be wearing some type of mouthguard is to ask your dentist at your next visit. At each check-up, your dentist evaluates your entire oral cavity, monitoring any changes and looking for warning signs of dangerous habits. If you have a nighttime clenching or grinding problem, there will be evidence inside your mouth.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to learn whether you might need to begin wearing a mouthguard.
- Do you play any contact sports?
- Do you clench your teeth when exercising or lifting weights?
- Do you have frequent headaches or feelings of tightness in your face?
- Do you have pain in your ears or jaws?
- Do you have generalized sensitivity in most or all of your teeth?
- Do your jaw joints make clicking or popping sounds when you open and close your mouth?
- Do your teeth appear to be flatter or shorter than they used to?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may need to wear a mouthguard.
What are the Different Types of Mouthguards?
Not all mouthguards are the same, and each specific type of mouthguard has a specific purpose. An athletic mouthguard will not protect against heavy clenching, and a nightguard for grinding makes a poor sports mouthpiece. Each design incorporates essential elements for its assigned purpose.
People who participate in contact sports should always consider wearing an athletic mouthguard, regardless of age. Whether it is a baseball missing the glove and hitting your face or taking a shoulder to the mouth in basketball, sports injuries commonly involve the mouth. These injuries can involve chipped, broken or dislodged teeth and cuts to the lips, cheeks, and tongue. Some even carry a risk for breaking the jaws at the joints.
An athletic mouthguard provides a protective covering over all of the upper teeth, so it reduces the chances of damage to the teeth. We design athletic mouthguards to extend underneath the lips and cheeks, separating them from the teeth. This reduces the risk of cuts and lacerations from the teeth.
An athletic mouthguard is relatively thick and slightly rubbery in consistency. This provides a shock absorber like effect to protect against injuries that might cause a sharp, forceful closing of the upper and lower jaws. This cushioning effect protects the teeth against breaking, and it also absorbs some of the impact and protects the jaw joints.
Nightguards for Clenching and/or Grinding
The unconscious habit of clenching and/or grinding the teeth during sleep is a common problem. Known as bruxism, this habit can cause severe damage to the teeth, gums, jawbone, muscles and jaw joints over time. Some people know that they clench or grind at night because they experience noticeable symptoms. Many others have this habit and remain completely unaware of it. If you have this habit, there will be visible evidence inside the mouth that your dentist can easily spot.
A nightguard for protection against bruxism should be custom-fitted to the teeth and hard in texture. These appliances serve not only to protect the teeth from the damage that occurs from the friction they produce by clenching or grinding against each other. They also reduce the amount of force the jaw muscles can produce. This relaxes the muscles, reducing headaches and facial pain. It also decompresses the jaw joints, reducing their risk for damage.
Dental appliances for the treatment of TMJ disorder must be custom-made by a dentist. The purpose of a TMJ mouthguard is the precise positioning of the teeth in order to create a healthy joint configuration. You simply cannot accomplish this with an over-the-counter mouthguard.
TMJ mouthguards come in a variety of materials, sizes, and coverage because there is a wide range of TMJ problems they treat. In order to get the “right” mouthguard, you must see a dentist for an accurate diagnosis of your TMJ problem first. Wearing the wrong type of mouthguard can actually make TMJ problems worse over time!
What is the Difference between Over-the-Counter and Professional Mouthguards?
The difference between over-the-counter mouthguards and their professional counterparts that patients tend to focus on is the cost. Over-the-counter mouthguards are much less expensive than professional guards are. The problem is that you typically get what you pay for.
Over-the-counter mouthguards are generic in their fit. Most are a thermoplastic (meaning that you can use temperature to change the shape) material, so you heat or warm up the material and mold it to your teeth. This typically leads to a soft or flexible mouthguard, which is easy for you to clench or grind through. Some patients even find that the rubbery consistency actually increases their tendency to clench the teeth.
Most over-the-counter guards are bulky and uncomfortable, providing only minimal protection. That being said, in many cases, wearing an over-the-counter mouthpiece is better than wearing nothing to protect the teeth.
Your dentist makes professional mouthguards from an exact replica of your teeth and jaws for a perfect custom fit. Professional appliances are much smaller in size, enabling patients to adapt to wearing them more readily. Made from hard acrylic materials, professional mouthguards also last much longer than over-the-counter material.
While professional dental appliances are more expensive, in the long run, they will provide better protection for a longer amount of time, so the increased investment up front pays off for quite some time.
More Questions about Mouthguards?
Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with one of our dentists. We can answer any question you have about mouthguards, assess your situation, and recommend the type that will best meet your needs.