I once had a custom-made mouthguard that I used when playing masters’ basketball. I used it for about 10 years, thinking, heck, a dentist made it – it should last forever.
Mouthguards are excellent safety devices and should be worn by any athlete participating in contact sports. Unfortunately, they don’t last forever, and normal wear and tear will reduce their effectiveness–often in a year or even less.
In fact, custom-made mouthguards are often given a two-year lifespan by dentists. But recent research has shown that mouthguards can lose their thickness by .1 to .5 mm over a six-week period of regular football practice and competition (about half a season). A loss of .5mm in thickness can result in a 30% reduction in effectiveness.
Studies have also shown that mouthguards can lose their shape over the course of the season, with the subject guards averaging a 9% change in shape by mid-season. This too, can reduce their fit and effectiveness.
Certain common practices deform the shape of mouthguards, making them less effective. Examples include removing the guards and chewing on their outside surface, or wedging them into the facemask, which both deforms and exposes them to destructive sunlight.
HOW TO EXTEND THEIR LIFESPAN
You can increase the lifespan of mouthguards by stopping the above practices. Storing them in containers is also effective, as is providing facemask attachments, which reduces the likelihood that players will chew on them.
One other thing you might do, if getting a custom-made mouthguard, is to ask your dentist to make the guard 3mm or 4mm thick. That may be thicker than what they normally provide (the study below used 2mm guards), but the extra material should provide extra shock protection and durability. A 2005 study by Waked and Caputo found that 4 mm is the maximum thickness that will be considered comfortable enough to be tolerated by athletes. The 3mm versions are often recommended by dentists.
The mouthguards used in the study were custom-made. Off-the-shelf guards may have different rates of degradation. But the concept is the same for off-the-shelf guards. Check them the regularly, make sure they aren’t deformed in shape or too worn — in particular, make sure there is still a good thickness of material around the indentations of the teeth.
1. Gianluca Del Rossi, PhD, ATC; Peter Lisman, MS, ATC; Marco A. Leyte-Vidal, DMD, “A Preliminary Report of Structural Changes to Mouthguards During 1 Season of High School Football.” Journal of Athletic Training, 2007;42(1):47–50.
2. Ray Paddilla (DDS) “Types of Athletic Mouthguards,” Sports Dentistry Online, 2007.
3. Waked, E.J., Caputo, AA, “Thickness and stiffness characteristics of custom-made mouthguard materials.” Quintessence International, 2005;36:462– 466.