With the start of football season just around the corner, parents are shopping for the best safety equipment to ensure that their children are as protected and comfortable as possible.
One of the most important tasks of the offseason is selecting the right mouth guard to protect a player's teeth, mouth and jaw. For players who wear braces, having the proper mouth guard is essential.
According to the National Youth Sports Foundation for the Prevention of Athletic Injuries, an athlete is 60 times more likely to suffer damage to the teeth if he or she is not wearing a mouth guard.
All athletes in contact sports wear mouth guards to absorb the impact of blows that could damage the teeth. However, for those with braces, mouth guards not only can prevent painful and sometimes permanent dental injuries, they also protect the mouth, lips and tongue from lacerations of the lips and the inside of the mouth caused by the braces themselves.
“With braces, the big thing is the protection of the lips,” said Dr. Todd Casey of Casey Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Oakton, Va. “Braces are generally pretty sharp, and if you take a blow directly in the mouth, then you can run into some problems.”
No matter the player, the advantages of wearing a mouth guard don’t stop there.
Mouth guards also can help prevent jaw fractures and dislocations from both side and bottom impacts.
By protecting the teeth, mouth, lips, tongue and jaw, mouth guards prevent an estimated 200,000 injuries every year in high school and college athletics, according to the American Dental Association.
The right mouth guard also can help protect the braces themselves from damage during games or practices – a savings that parents and players would prefer.
Shock Doctor, the official mouth guard partner of USA Football, sells mouth guards made with 100 percent medical-grade silicone rather than plastic, allowing for additional movement when necessary.
“The silicone is a very user-friendly material, and there is wiggle room in it,” said Mitch Hopton, a sales manager at Shock Doctor. “So, when it locks up its memory and locks over the bracket line, it doesn’t impede movement of the braces.”
In some models not specifically made for braces, the gel liner on the interior part of the mouth guard can get caught in the brace structure. In some cases, when the mouth guard is removed, wires or braces can be pulled off.
However, in braces-specific models, such as Shock Doctor’s Braces and Ultra Braces, the material’s flexibility allows the mouth guard to move rather than get stuck to the braces.
Many athletes are opting for custom-fit mouth guards, pieces specifically made for the individual. However, these mouth guards cannot be remolded once the teeth have shifted, and when wearing braces, the teeth can move quickly, particularly in the initial stages of the realignment process.
In some cases, custom-fit mouth guards no longer fit properly within a matter of weeks.
However, in Shock Doctor’s braces-specific models, an Insta-Fit design allows the piece to readjust as the position of the teeth shift. This instant fitting characteristic allows the mouth guard to be remolded as time goes on.
In addition, the mouth guard requires no extra preparation for fitting. Unlike other mouth guards, the Insta-Fit pieces are ready to go into the mouth once they are taken out of the package and don’t need to be immersed in water or heated for molding, giving the Braces and Ultra Braces models a distinct advantage over custom-fit mouth guards.
Casey strongly recommends that athletes use braces-specific pieces when playing contact sports in order to reduce the possibility of injuries.
“Ninety percent of the time, you don’t really need (a braces-specific mouth guard), but it’s that 10 percent that really gets you,” he said. “So, it’s what I always recommend.”