Study: Custom-fitted mouthguards outperform store-bought models in reducing concussion risk

May 7, 2014

Parents concerned about reducing their child’s risk of suffering a sports-related concussion would be well advised to visit their dentist instead of a sporting goods store.

A new study published in the peer-reviewed General Dentistry journal found that secondary school age football players were more than twice as likely to suffer mild traumatic brain injuries/concussions when using store purchased mouth-guards compared to players wearing custom made properly fitted mouth-guards

Lead author Dr. Jackson Winters, a pediatric dentist who also served as a high school and collegiate football official for 28 years said “Our research indicates that, when compared to over-the-counter versions, a custom made, properly fitted mouth-guard also is essential to player safety.”

The study focused on 412 players from six high school football teams. Three teams (220 athletes) were randomly assigned to wear custom made mouth-guards, and three teams (192 athletes) wore standard mouth-guards of their own choosing. All players wore the same style of football helmet. Results indicated that the injury rate dropped significantly; from 8.3% for those using over-the-counter model relative to only 3.6% for those wearing the custom, dentistry-fitted mouth-guards.

While mouth-guards main function is to protect the teeth, previous studies suggest that mouth-guards can reduce concussion risk because they help absorb shock, stabilize the head and neck, and limit movement caused by a direct hit to the jaw. Mouth-guard thickness has been shown to be a factor that contributes to the level of protection. The average thickness of the custom mouth-guards in this study was 3.50 millimeters, while the average thickness of the over-the-counter mouth-guards was only 1.65 millimeters.

“Although more research on this topic is needed, our study shows the value of a custom-made mouth-guard,” Dr. Winters said. “The benefits of protecting your child far outweigh the costs associated with a dental or medical injury, which is likelier to occur with a store-bought model.” Custom made mouth-guards also can last longer than store-bought models and may be less prone to damage by the athletes. “Mouth-guards that are not fitted to the athlete’s mouth are prone to be less comfortable than those made by a dentist,” says Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson, Dr. Antenucci. “When a mouth-guard is not comfortable, the athlete is likely to chew it, reducing its thickness and resulting in less protection.”

At Santé Dental, a custom-fitted mouth-guard can be completed for approximately $40.

Following these care protocols will also help to maintain the effectiveness of a custom fitted mouth-guard:
1. After each use, brush your mouth-guard with a toothbrush and cool (not hot) water.
2. Keep your mouth-guard in a well-ventilated, plastic storage box when not in use. Your dentist will provide you with a case for your mouth-guard.
3. Heat is bad for a mouth-guard, so don’t leave it in direct sunlight or in a hot car. The heat can melt the mouth-guard, altering the way it fits in your mouth and resulting in less protection.
4. When you see your dentist twice a year for your regular cleanings, bring your mouth-guard with you. Your dentist can give your mouth-guard a thorough cleaning and check its structure and fit.
5. Call your dentist if you have any concerns about your mouth-guard.

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