Health Team

Mouth guards protect teeth during sports

Posted March 8, 2010 9:09 p.m. EST

— In the rough and tumble world of high school, college and pro sports, players wear all sorts of protective gear. However, many of them choose not to protect their teeth.

“It's just another protective device like the helmet or the face mask,” Dr. Ralph Leonard, with the UNC School of Dentistry, said.

Leonard said there are a broad range of mouth guard options available, even some for sale over-the-counter.

“They are the least expensive and probably least protective,” he said of the over-the-counter models.

The "boil and bite" type, made from a horseshoe-shaped plastic model, is used by 90 percent of athletes. The guard provides no protection to the palate, however.

“With the stock mouth guard you have to bite it to hold it in place,” UNC dental student Christian Johnson said.

Johnson, who plays basketball, had a custom guard made to protect her smile. Custom guards are molded to fit a person's teeth.

Leonard said the mouth guard is essential since it works as a shock absorber for the teeth and soft tissue.

“Injuries to the teeth and soft tissues can be very disfiguring,” Leonard explained.

However, the custom models are the most expensive option and the least used by athletes.

To help area athletes get custom guards, UNC dental students volunteer their services.

“We even have students that come back year after year to have new guards made, just in different colors,” Johnson said.

“Once you get the cast, you can really remake the guards as many times as you want,” UNC dental student Stephanie Chambers said.

Most dental offices can make a custom sports mouth guard. Standard models can be found at a sporting goods store.