01 Mar Why Are Custom Sports Mouthguards Better Than Boil-And-Bite?
You may have read that custom sports mouthguards are better than over-the-counter (boil-and-bite) mouthguards found at the local pharmacy. But not many sources explain why. There are good reasons why custom mouthguards are worth getting, all backed by science – and physics.
Let’s take a brief look.
Medical and dental professionals encourage the sporting public to wear custom mouthguards to reduce the impact of collision. Sports Medicine Australia and the ADA also enthusiastically recommend custom sports mouthguards. By reducing dangerous impact, we can spare ourselves the horribly damaging effects of tooth loss, tooth and root damage, pain – plus various facial and head injuries.
So what is the science behind a custom mouthguard that makes it so protective? According to Dr Anthony Lovat, BDS, and his paper “How Mouthguards Work” it’s most easily explained by breaking it down into three factors – time, elasticity and area:
- TIME: A custom mouthguard increases the time of impact because it is made of a flexible material. This flexible material can spread the impact area so that an impacting object will slow to a halt over a more extended time.
- ELASTICITY: Again, as the mouthguard is made of a flexible material, it can compress and then bounce back to its original shape. This elastic action absorbs energy, minimising the impact to the teeth and jaw.
- AREA: The greater the coverage area of the teeth, the greater the protection.
The all-important mouthguard fit
The fit (retention) of a mouth guard plays a vital role in its success. A well-fitted mouthguard is a safe mouthguard. And, a custom mouthguard has a far superior fit – for good reason.
A professional, custom-fit mouthguard fits better than a do-it-yourself, boil-and-bite mouthguard because we use professional machines and tools in the manufacturing process. These machines work at far higher temperatures than what you could produce at home – especially when you must bite and suck the material in your mouth. Likewise, in a laboratory, we can create mouthguards that are far thicker than boil-and-bite versions.
We can see three clear benefits of a custom mouthguard, once again incorporating the three factors of time, elasticity and area, as explained above:
- ONE: (Time) Customised mouthguards are thicker and slow down impact
A flimsy boil-and-bite mouthguard may be barely .5 to 1 mm in thickness, once fitted. Alternatively, a custom mouthguard may be 3 mm thick. This thickness and elastic sponginess are what protects you from impact – slowing the force down (time) and protecting your teeth.
- TWO: (Area) Customised mouthguards provide greater coverage
The greater the area, the more protection, as the load from any impact is spread out more.
- THREE: (Elasticity) Customised mouthguards are thicker and more spongy
As a thicker, more spongy material is used in a custom sports mouthguard, its elasticity can absorb more energy – saving your teeth.
How do mouthguards (actually) reduce injury?
Dental injury is caused by trauma. We categorise these trauma injuries as either indirect or direct blows.
Direct blows – are less common and are caused when something directly hits the front upper jaw. Without a mouthguard, this can lead to broken or loosened teeth – or knocked-out teeth. A custom mouthguard will protect against direct blows through our time/area/ elasticities principles.
Indirect blows – are more common and occur after receiving a direct blow to the lower jaw. This lower jaw collision causes the lower teeth to slam upwards into the upper teeth. Indirect blows can cause many problems, such as pushing the front teeth forward or fracturing them, causing a concussion (impact > jaw > skull) or TMJ, (impact > jaw > TMJ) causing damage. A custom mouthguard will also protect against indirect blows through our time/area/ elasticities principles.
Professionally create mouthguards have other benefits not related to preventing collision. As many of us will attest after wearing masks during the Covid pandemic, comfort and function matters. For example:
- Breathing: Due to its superior fit, a custom mouthguard stays put and allows the athlete to open their mouth and breathe fully more easily. Cheap, boil-and-bite mouthguards require the athlete to change their breathing habits to stabilise the mouthguard.
- Talking: A well-fitted mouthguard will not interfere with the lips or tongue, making speech more natural. Clumsy, poorly fitted mouthguards make speech far more difficult as the wearer wastes valuable energy stabilising the mouthguard rather than talking freely.
- Comfort: A good mouthguard is not noticeable to the wearer. The athlete can get on with their activity without feeling self-conscious or distressed by a foreign body in their mouth. Further, a good mouthguard will not cause irritation or sores on the mouth.