As the mom of three teenagers, all of whom are active in sports, I understand athletic mouth guards. Wearing a mouth guard is a critical piece of protective equipment. In addition to preventing damage to the teeth, softening the blow to the temporomandibular joints and have been linked to the lessening of concussion injury. The long-term effects of concussion injuries suffered as a teen are just being uncovered, but appear significant. The challenge of the store-bought mouth guards are numerous. They first few times I purchased one at a sporting goods store, I was baffled by the variety available, and the claims on the packaging. As a dentist I assumed I would be able to do a better than average job custom fitting them back at home – I was wrong. I am not sure how many we went through before I finally gave up, but it is difficult if not impossible. The first thing I learned is how challenging it is to get the plastic hot enough to actually custom form to the teeth. If you follow the directions, the plastic stays too firm for the average person to impress their teeth into. On the other hand, if you warm it enough for the plastic to form around the teeth, it is too hot to hold, place against the soft tissue, and can cause tooth pain (ask my kids how I know this).
I have watched one too many times during a lacrosse game as a player gets hit hard enough that their mouth guard goes flying across the field to believe they fit properly. I also witness the kids taking them out every chance they have, because they are so uncomfortable. They end up hanging from their helmet or of they are worn can cause facial pain, as to stay in place they have to bite down into them very firmly. My kids all wear custom-made mouth guards. It is a simple, easy procedure, and the benefits are too many to count. Using an upper alginate impression I make a silicone model from Mach II and bite registration paste. I place this model into my Ministar from Great Lakes Ortho. The actual guard is made using two layers of the 3mm soft night guard material.The first layer is made using the clear material and following the directions for heating on the box.
I remove this from the model and trim back to just past the gingival margins with a large scissor. The model is placed back into my Ministar and I load another 3mm piece of night guard material, this time a solid color. the use of a solid came from a conversation with the referee at one of my daughter’s games. I learned that at least in lacrosse the rules require a mouth guard that is visible to the referee or the team can be penalized. I ask my patients what color they would like, and keep a variety of team colors available in this material.
For this second layer, I reduce the heating time by about ten seconds to prevent a “fold”. The two layers adhere to each other due to the temperature. Once trimmed you now have an athletic guard that fits precisely, not requiring the player to occlude into it to prevent it from falling out. These guards will stay in place even when the player is subjected to a blow to the head. They are easy to see on the field, and most importantly comfortable enough for the kids keep them in. It is an easy conversation to have with any parent who has spent money trying to make the store-bought kind work. My friend Gary Takacs recommends making them for local teams a way to give back to the community.