All About Custom Mouthguards

A custom mouthguard is the most effective way to protect your teeth while playing sports. There is a lot to know about them before deciding if they’re right for you. Learn all about custom mouthguards and see if they are a good solution for you!

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Types of Mouthguards

There are three types of mouthguards that are commonly used in sports. They are stock mouthguards, boil-and-bite mouthguards and custom-fitted mouthguards. Stock and boil-and-bite mouthguards can be bought from any sporting goods store, but a custom-fitted mouthguard needs to be specially made in a dental laboratory. Each offers different levels of protection and comfort. Before you understand the value of a custom-fitted mouthguard, you need to know the differences between these three main types of mouth piece.

Stock Mouthguards

Stock mouthguards are the most basic form of mouthguard. Made of rubber, polyvinyl chloride, or a polyvinyl acetate copolymer, these mouth guards are made to be used as is, with no bite forming needed. Because the mouthguard doesn’t form to the athlete’s teeth, a common issue that it can have is that it doesn’t fit properly and feels uncomfortable to use. Athletes need to constantly bite down on the mouthguard to keep it in place. This also causes the athlete’s speech and breathing to be inhibited which can affect their play by not being able to communicate with teammates well, and not being able to take in enough oxygen to fuel their exertion. These mouthguards are not as commonly used since boil-and-bite mouthguards offer better fit, comfort, and protection.
Young female hockey player holding her stick and helmet
football player with a green and white mouthguard attached to his helmet cage

Boil-and-Bite Mouthguards

Boil-and-bite mouthguards are the most commonly used type of mouthguard in sports. These mouthguards are made from thermoplastic materials that soften when placed in hot water. Once the material is softened, the mouthguard is then placed in the athlete’s mouth and then has pressure applied to it in order to form the softened material to the shape of the athlete’s teeth. This allows for a better fit and more comfort than a stock mouthguard, and isn’t as restrictive to the athlete’s speech and breathing during play. There is also less force required to keep the mouthguard in place, however some force still needs to be applied.

One major disadvantage of this type of mouthguard is that the thermoplastic material is not the most durable material that a mouthguard can be made out of. If the athlete has a habit of chewing on their mouthguard, then they will quickly find that their mouthguard doesn’t fit properly and it won’t offer as much protection as it did when it was first formed to their teeth. This can also make speech and breathing issues worse for the athlete.

Custom-Fitted Mouthguards

Custom-fitted mouthguards are specially made to precisely fit the bite of an athlete. These mouthguards are made in a dental lab using an impression that is taken by a dentist. There are two main types of custom-fitted mouthguard.

Vacuum Formed Mouthguards

A vacuum formed mouthguard is made using a single sheet of EVA polyvinyl acetate-polyethelene copolymer. This sheet is heated and placed over a dental model that is created from the impression of the athlete’s teeth, and then formed to the shape of the teeth by using a vacuum to remove the air between the material and the model.

This type of custom-fitted mouthguard is better suited to athletes who participate in no-contact, low impact sports like baseball, or tennis. Because of the small amount of material used to make this type of mouthguard, they are not incredibly durable and they can easily lose their form if the athlete likes to chew on their mouthguard.

Woman having a mould made for a mouth guard.
Woman with martial arts gloves holding a mouth guard.

Pressure Laminated Mouthgaurds

Pressure laminated mouthguards are made by heating multiple sheets of EVA materials, placing them over a dental model, and applying significant pressure to fuse the sheets together. This type of mouthguard is thicker than a vacuum formed mouthguard, but also offers greater durability without sacrificing speech, breathing, fit or comfort. These types of mouthguards are best used by athletes in contact sports like hockey, football, or boxing.

How Long Do Custom Mouthguards Last?

The lifespan of a custom mouthguard depends on a few factors. The type of mouthguard, how the mouthguard is used and cared for, and the state of the athlete’s teeth all play a role in when a custom mouthguard needs to be replaced.

Type of Custom Mouthguard

Pressure laminated mouthguards are made to last longer than vacuum formed mouthguards. This is due to the amount of material that is used to create the mouthpiece. A single sheet of EVA material is not going to be as strong as multiple sheets fused together.

How the Mouthguard is Used

How often the mouthguard is used, how hard the athlete bites on it when using it properly, and whether or not an athlete uses it improperly by chewing on it can all impact how long a mouthguard lasts.

The State of the Athlete’s Teeth

If there are any major changes to an athlete’s teeth, such as having a tooth extracted, or if their teeth shift over time, then the fit of the mouthguard, and the protection it offers will become compromised, causing the need for the mouthguard to be replaced.

If properly cared for, a vacuum formed mouthguard will last a few months and can get the athlete through that season. They do need to be closely monitored to ensure they are still effective. Pressure laminated mouthguards that are well cared for can last for two to three years provided there are no major shifts in the athlete’s teeth.

An orange and white mouthguard on top of a closed orange case
Girl with a braided ponytail at a martial arts tournament putting in a mouth guard.

The benefits of a
custom mouthguard

As has been mentioned, custom mouthguards offer improved fit, comfort and allow for easier speech and breathing than store bought mouthguards. Those benefits are all secondary to the most important benefit, unsurpassed protection.

Custom mouthguards offer increased protection in three main ways:

Protects the Jaw Joint

The jaw joint is a delicate structure in a person’s face. A large enough impact or blow to the face can easily cause injury to this joint which can take a long time to recover from and can lead to health issues if not treated properly. A custom mouthguard does more to absorb and evenly distribute the force of an impact to the face, reducing the stress that this joint may endure on both sides of the face.

Cushions Teeth from High Force Impacts

It’s possible to receive a strong blow to the teeth and mouth in just about any sport. A custom mouthguard is able to absorb these impacts better than other mouthguards which protects both the upper and lower teeth from chipping, breaking, or from being knocked out of an athlete’s mouth.

Protects Soft Tissues

Custom mouthguards offer protection to the gums as well. Impacts to the face can cause lacerations and bruising to the gums which can be quite painful. By absorbing the force of an impact, a custom mouthguard can limit these types of injuries.

How to care for
custom mouthguards

Getting the most out of a custom mouthguard depends on how well it is taken care of. Being sure not to use the mouthguard improperly is the first step. This means avoiding chewing on the ends of the mouthguard. The mouthguard needs to be cleaned regularly as well to remove any bacteria that may have made its way on to it during use. Soaking the mouthguard in a cap full of mouthwash diluted in warm water for half an hour and then rinsing will kill most bacteria on the mouthguard. When the mouthguard isn't being used, it is best to store it in a case to keep it clean until its next use.

A red, white and blue mouthguard in a blue case.
Yazdani Family Dentistry Logo on glass at the Kanata clinic

Does insurance
cover mouthguards?

Some insurance or workplace benefits policies offer coverage for custom mouthguards. It is important to check with your provider to determine if they cover a custom mouthguard. If they do, be sure to know how much of the cost they will cover. Considering the quality of the materials and the fabrication process for custom mouthguards, they are more expensive than a traditional boil-and-bite or stock mouthguard, so being able to claim some, or all of the cost of a custom mouthguard will certainly make it easier and more affordable to obtain one.

Are custom mouthguards worth the price?

This is the million-dollar question. At Yazdani Family Dentistry, we think that all athletes should be doing everything they can to protect their mouth and teeth while playing sports. Custom mouthguards do more than store bought mouthguards to protect an athlete’s mouth and teeth which can prevent painful mouth injuries and costly dental procedures to fix damaged teeth and gums. They also allow for better comfort and fit, as well as speech and breathing ability during play which allows athletes to perform at their best. At the end of the day, it boils down to how much value an athlete places in protecting their mouth, teeth, gums and jaw. If you or a family member is an athlete in need of a mouthguard in Kanata or Kemptville, then contact us today to discuss your options for getting a custom mouthguard from Yazdani Family Dentistry!