Mouthguard Primer: 25 Tips!
Plus, USA Hockey requires a mouthguard for all youth hockey players, and players are often checked for mouthguards at tournaments. Beyond that, it’s just common sense for anyone playing hockey to wear a mouthguard. Read on for top practical tips on what to buy and how to care for it.
Why to Wear a Mouthguard
The reasons for wearing a mouthguard range from safety to vanity, but all are significant:
- You have to: USA Hockey requires all youth hockey players in the United States to wear a mouthguard to protect their teeth and to prevent concussions and injuries to the temporomandibular joint. In addition, Minnesota Hockey has the following rule: "All players, including goalkeepers, are required to wear a colored (non-clear) internal mouthpiece, which covers all remaining teeth of one jaw, customarily, the upper."
- Keep safe: Mouthguards do more than protect your teeth—they can protect your lips, cheek, face, jaw, neck and more.
- Protect your smile: Everyone looks better and is more confident with teeth.
- Avoid the dentist: Dental work is expensive, time consuming and sometimes painful.
- Improve performance: Beyond preventing the trouble you may have eating pizza or chewing gum—or attracting members of the opposite sex—without teeth, there may be another reason to wear a mouthguard. Mouthguards may improve athletic performance, which you can read about in Time magazine in the best-headlined article on the topic ever: Big-League Chew.
What to Choose
To be of any use, a mouthguard needs to be (1) in the mouth and (2) fit well. Chewing on a corner is not the same thing as wearing a mouthguard—nor is letting it dangle from your helmet. Given the importance of this piece of equipment to your health, find one you will like and wear.
- Stock: Ready-made mouthguards come in small, medium and large. They are inexpensive and yet often uncomfortable. These may be good for kids whose mouths are changing rapidly or tend to lose them often.
- Formed: Known as “boil-and-bite,” these mouthguards are a little sleeker and more comfortable than stock mouthguards. Boil it in water to soften it and then bite on it to form it to your mouth. These are a good middle-of-the-road solution between stock and custom mouthguards.
- Custom: Made by a dentist or with an at-home kit, custom mouthguards fit extremely well and allow for easy speaking and breathing. They can, however, be expensive and time-consuming to acquire (from around $60 to $300). If you think it will be lost or outgrown quickly, these may not be for you.
Note: On the theory that the best mouthguard is the one they’ll wear, my sons have had custom mouthguards in the past. The first time, a very nice dentist dad offered the entire team one—in team colors—as an ingenuous introduction to his practice (which worked—he’s our dentist now). The second time, I paid for them at his friends-and-family rate, still a lot for a mouthguard for kids with rapidly changing mouths. Did it work? One loves his except when coaches think he’s not wearing one due to its sleek fit. The other one, a Mite, chews on it as it hangs out his helmet—something he can just as easily do with a $5 guard, except with the $5 guard the coaches are more likely to notice and make him put it in.
How it Should Fit
Like all other pieces of athletic equipment, you will not have your mouthguard forever. It will wear out or you will outgrow it, usually within a year.
- It should be tight yet comfortable.
- You should be able to breathe and talk with reasonable comfort.
- Trim a stock or formed mouthguard as necessary to fit—just be sure it still covers all the teeth.
- Replace a distorted or frayed mouthguard.
- Replace it if it has holes or jagged edges.
- Replace it after growth spurts or changes in teeth (lost, new, moved, braced).
- To get more value out of it, wear it for any activity that poses a risk to the mouth: scootering, biking, skiing, snowboarding and the like.
- Have the dentist check the mouthguard for fit during regular cleanings.
How to Care for It
Ever seen a kid dig a mouthguard out of the bottom of his hockey bag—a bag full of dirty socks, sweaty pads and spilled sports drinks—and pop it in his mouth? Maybe he’ll rinse it in the drinking fountain first, but that’s about it. So I admit, the official mouthguard care rules made me laugh out loud—and yet commit to doing a better job of taking care of them.
- When to clean: Sanitize after each use to remove bacteria, fungus and mold. While this may not happen, if your mouthguard has been languishing in your bag all summer, for example, clean it before the season starts. After that, try cleaning it once a week.
- How to clean: Clean it according to the manufacturer instructions, likely denture cleaning solution, a toothbrush and toothpaste, or soap and water.
- Where to store: Store it in a box, preferably one with a little airflow. (You can actually buy sanitizing mouthguard cases.) If you don’t have a box and are on the way to a game or something, at least grab a baggy for it.
- Keep it cool: Don’t leave it out in the sun or it can melt and change shape.
Tips from the Trenches
Experienced hockey parents and players have run into every mouthguard situation you can think of; a few things to watch out for follow.
- In the bag: After you clean your mouthguard, make sure to get it back in your hockey bag. One way to remember this is to put it by the car keys, ready to go out, or just take it straight to the bag.
- Keep a backup: Always have a cheap backup mouthguard in your hockey bag in case you forget yours. Just leave it in its packaging or a baggy.
- Keep germs to yourself: Leave your mouthguard in and your gloves on when you shake hands after a game to keep from spreading the flu, meningitis or even just colds.
- No clear: USA Hockey requires colored mouthguards as clear ones are hard for refs and coaches to find and remove if you’re injured.
- Wear it: Think like Dr. Seuss. Wear it with braces. Wear it to open skate. Wear it to stick-and-puck. Wear it to games. Just wear it.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Kelly Kordes Anton with the Grow the Game Initiative for this story.
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