Athletes should wear mouth guards because they help absorb the shock from a blow to the face that might otherwise result in an injury to the mouth or jaw. Dr. Mark Laska, of MidWilshire Dentistry in Los Angeles, California, says that a heavy collision can result in a chip or broken tooth, internal damage to a tooth, injury to the soft tissue of the mouth and in severe cases, tooth loss, concussion or even a broken jaw.
There are three types of mouth guards, the least expensive of which is commonly found in a sporting goods store. They are available in limited sizes and offer the least amount of protection. The most commonly used one is the borlin bite mouth guard, which also is available in limited sizes and lacks extensions, which can make for a bulky mouth guard and interfere with speaking and breathing. A custom-designed mouth guard can be received from a dentist and is made in a laboratory. These are often the most satisfactory for athletes and offer the best protection, comfort and retention, while interfering the least with speaking.
Mouth guards can actually improve performance, says Dr. Laska. A natural reaction when athletes train or compete is to clench their jaw. When this happens, a stress hormone called cortisol is released. The Under Armour brand has a mouth guard with power wedges that prevents the teeth from clenching and pivots the jaw downward and forward, relieving pressure on the TMJ (temporomandibular joint). By reducing the production of cortisol, an athlete can increase their strength, endurance and speed reaction time, adds Dr. Laska. Additionally, those wedges open the airway slightly allowing the athlete to breath better and get more oxygen to the tissues. This prevents lactic acid build up, allowing an athlete to recover quicker and perform better afterwards. Dr. Laska notes that mouth guards can be used for any sport.
Dr. Mark Laska, who has been the team dentist for the Los Angeles Clippers since 1987, treats his patients at his Mid Wilshire Dental Care practice in Los Angeles, California. Dr. Laska is also a leading sleep expert with Sleep Better TV.