Mouthguards play several important roles for athletes, especially in aggressive contact sports. The most obvious benefit is protecting your teeth and preventing serious mouth injuries. They can also reduce the risk of jaw injuries. However, it may come as a surprise to learn that mouthguards can also reduce the risk of brain injuries for athletes, especially if they are wearing a custom-made mouthguard.
Many have speculated that mouthguards can prevent some sports-related concussions, by helping to absorb shock, stabilize the head and neck, and limit movement caused by a direct hit to the jaw. But, there has been little evidence until a recent study published in the May/June 2014 issue of General Dentistry, the peer reviewed clinical journal of the Academy of General Dentistry.
The study found that high school football players wearing store-bought mouthguards were more than twice as likely to suffer mild traumatic brain injuries than those wearing properly fitted, custom mouthguards.
“Researchers and, most importantly, parents, are looking for ways to better protect children against concussions,” said lead author Jackson Winters, DDS, a pediatric dentist who also served as a high school and collegiate football official for 28 years. “Consumers may believe that today’s advanced helmet design provides sufficient protection, but our research indicates that, when compared to over-the-counter versions, a custom-made, properly fitted mouthguard also is essential to player safety.”
The study followed 412 players across six high school football teams. Three teams (220 players) were randomly assigned to wear custom-made mouthguards, while the remaining three teams (192 athletes) wore standard store-bought mouthguards of their own choice. All players used the same style of helmet during the study.
The findings showed that 8.3 percent of the athletes wearing using over-the-counter standard mouthguards suffered brain injuries. However, only 3.6 percent of the players wearing custom mouthguards suffered concussions.
The study also indicated that mouthguard thickness is a factor in the level of protection from mouthguards. The average thickness of custom-made mouthguards worn in the study was 3.5 millimeters, while the average thickness of the over-the-counter mouthguards was only 1.65 millimeters.
“Although more research on this topic is needed, our study shows the value of a custom-made mouthguard,” 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.”