How Do Mouth Guards Actually Protect Athletes?

If you have an athlete in the family, you’ve probably heard about the importance of always wearing a mouth guard during sports. But what, exactly, do mouth guards do to protect athletes?

The answer basically is that they act as a shock absorber during any impact to the mouth, jaw, or chin. These are the three areas where orofacial injuries usually happen. When there is no mouth guard present, the impact is a lot heavier, potentially resulting in damage.

Here are three types of injury-causing impacts that athletes receive that mouth guards help protect them from.

  • Direct impact to the mouth.
    This is probably the type of injury you think of when you hear of an oral injury. An impact to the mouth can come from several sources, depending on the activity – it could be a stick, puck, ball, hand, or elbow. When the mouth is hit, it could result in injuries to the lips, cheeks, gums, and teeth.
  • Direct impact to the jaw.
    This impact usually comes from the side, so it affects the jaw directly rather than the mouth. These injuries are located in the jawbones, teeth, and jaw joint (TMJ).
  • Impact under the chin.
    Typically, this impact comes from a shoulder, hand, or elbow moving upward from below. The resulting force causes the lower jaw to slam into the upper jaw, resulting in damage to the jawbones, teeth, and jaw joint (TMJ).

A mouth guard protects the soft tissues and teeth in the event of an impact. It absorbs the impact and disburses it to the rest of the mouth so that one area is not targeted. It also softens the sharp edges of the teeth to minimize or even completely prevent damage.

A mouth guard also protects against trauma (fractures and displacement) to the jaw joint and jaws by cushioning and reducing the amount of shock produced when the upper and lower jaws collide.

To get the best results from a mouth guard, it should fit intimately against the upper teeth without the need for biting or clenching. This means that the most effective type of mouth guard (that offers the most protection) is one that is custom-made to fit the athlete’s mouth. It will feel comfortable during wear and stays in place.

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