Types of athletic mouthguards.

- There are 3 kinds of guards: Stock, Boil-and-bite and Custom. Each varies in how it's made, the level of protection it provides and cost.

A stock athletic mouthguard.

A stock sports mouthguard.

A) Stock mouthguards -

A "stock mouthguard" refers to a preformed mouthpiece that's sold ready-to-be-used without any additional customization by the wearer.

While they are the cheapest type of guard, the level of protection they provide is just minimal too. The other types of protectors discussed on this page make a better choice.

  • Cost: $1 (in bulk) to $15 (individually)
  • Availability: Sporting goods and drug store retail outlets and websites.

Advantages / Disadvantages.

  • Stock guards are often only available in a limited number of sizes (i.e. small, medium, and large). As a result, they're often ill-fitting, uncomfortable to wear and don't stay in place well.
  • This lack of available sizes may result in an athlete ending up with an appliance that doesn't cover their back teeth the way it needs to so to provide maximum protection.
  • To compensate for a slack fit, an athlete may be forced to hold their stock mouthguard in place by way of clenching their teeth together. This can make it difficult for them to speak or breathe normally.
  • In some cases, the wearer may attempt to improve the fit or comfort of their appliance by trimming it. This type of customization can unwittingly compromise the level of protection it provides.


A boil-and-bite mouthguard, before customization.

A boil-and-bite mouthguard (before customization).

B) Boil-and-Bite mouthguard -

"Boil and bite" mouthguards are the most-used type of sports mouth protector.

They typically offer a higher level of protection than a stock one. Another advantage is that their fit can be customized (see below).

  • Cost: $3 (in bulk) to $40 (individually)
  • Availability: Sporting goods and drug store retail outlets and websites.

Customization.

These products usually have a firm plastic outer shell, and relatively spongy internal layer. This internal layer is thermoplastic in nature, meaning it softens up when heated.

  • The purchaser first places the appliance in hot water until the internal layer becomes soft and pliable.
  • They then squish it in place over their teeth and gums.
  • Using their fingers, lips, tongue, cheeks, and gentle biting pressure, the wearer seats the appliance and forms its contours as it cools.

The process is not difficult.

Advantages / Disadvantages.

  • During customization, the thickness of the spongy plastic covering the teeth (especially their biting surfaces and edges) may get thinned out. If it does it can compromise the level of protection that the guard can provide.
  • Boil-and-bite guards can be bulky.
  • Due to product-size limitations, incorrect product selection or errors in the at-home customization process, a guard may fail to cover over the wearer's teeth and jaws properly.
  • The retention of this type of mouthguard can be expected to be better than a stock one but typically inferior to the fit of a custom-made appliance.


A custom mouthguard.

A custom sports mouthguard.

C) Custom mouthguard -

Custom athletic mouthpieces are appliances made in a dental laboratory, specifically for the person who will wear it. This is the best type of mouth protector.

  • Cost: $100 to $300
  • Availability: From your dentist or companies providing dental laboratory services online.

Advantages / Disadvantages.

  • A well-designed custom guard is generally considered to provide the highest level of protection. Its design can be individualized, not just for the athlete but also for the type of sport they play.
  • The fit and comfort of these guards is usually excellent and therefore create minimal inconvenience when worn. The more comfortable and unobtrusive a protector is the greater the likelihood that it will be worn.
  • While the cost of a custom appliance is more than its stock or boil-and-bite alternatives, it should be considered money well spent (see below).
A dental impression used to make a custom mouthguard.

A dental impression.

How are custom guards made?

The process of making a custom guard begins with taking a dental impression.

  • The dentist will first fill an "impression tray" with a putty-like substance and then squish it in place over their patient's teeth and gums. The putty will set in just a few minutes.
  • The impression is then filled with plaster. This creates a model of the athlete's mouth. A dental laboratory will then design and fabricate the mouthguard on this model.
  • The lab is usually given a week or two to fabricate the guard. It's then delivered to the dentist who will check its design and refine its fit in the patient's mouth.

Online mouthguard services.

Some dental laboratories offer custom mouthguard services online.

  • The buyer purchases a kit that contains a tray and impression material. They then take an impression of their teeth and gums at home, on their own.
  • The impression is then sent to the dental laboratory. They fabricate the appliance and then send it to the customer.

Potential problems with using an online service.

  • Taking an impression will be a new experience for the buyer and one they may not be very good at.

    Check with the company you do business with. Do they provide more than one set of materials, in case a second attempt at taking an impression is needed? What happens if you send in an impression that is inadequate, will they send a replacement kit?

  • Even a mouthguard made from a seemingly perfect impression may require adjustment so its fit is right. The buyer will need to take responsibility for making these adjustments, properly, on their own.

Don't be penny-wise and dollar-foolish.

Yes, getting an athletic mouthguard involves an expense. But when its cost is compared to the possible outcome of not wearing one, its price should be seen as a bargain.

Consider the following points:

  • Having a white filling placed as a repair for a chipped tooth (even a relatively minor one) can easily cost in the neighborhood of $120 or more.
  • Major dental repairs (root canal treatment, dental crowns, tooth replacement) can cost anywhere from just a few, up to several thousand, dollars. That's 10 to 30 times the cost of a Custom appliance.
  • Of course, the above fees don't include other important factors such as the time and inconvenience associated with having the work performed.
  • Beyond the cost of the initial dental work, you can also expect that additional treatment will be needed in the future. No type of dental restoration can be expected to last a lifetime.

With all of these issues considered, when it comes to sports mouthguards, an ounce of prevention really can be worth a pound of cure.

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