Research published in the United States has reinforced the importance of custom-made mouthguards for children playing contact sports. The results of the research suggested that high school football players wearing store-bought, over-the-counter (OTC) mouthguards were more than twice as likely to suffer mild traumatic brain injures (MTBI)/concussions than those wearing custom-made, properly fitted mouthguards.
“Researchers and, most importantly, parents, are looking for ways to better protect children against concussions,” said lead author Jackson Winters, DDS, a paediatric 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 new study in the May/June 2014 issue of General Dentistry, the peer-reviewed clinical journal of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD). The authors acknowledge that many variables contribute to MTBI/concussion injuries, and mouthguards—whose primary function is protecting the teeth—cannot completely prevent them from occurring. Previous studies have theorised that mouthguards can reduce concussion risk, however, because they help absorb shock, stabilise the head and neck, and limit movement caused by a direct hit to the jaw.
Mouthguard thickness also has been shown to be a factor that contributes to the level of protection. The average thickness of the custom-made mouthguards in this study was 3.50 millimeters, while the average thickness of the OTC mouthguards was only 1.65 millimeters.
The study followed 412 players from six high school football teams. Three teams (220 athletes) were randomly assigned to wear custom-made mouthguards, and three teams (192 athletes) wore standard OTC mouthguards of their own choosing. All players wore the same style of football helmet.
According to the study, 8.3 percent of athletes in the OTC mouthguard group suffered MTBI/concussion injuries. For those with custom-made mouthguards, however, the rate was only 3.6 percent.
“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.”
Custom-made mouthguards also can last longer than store-bought models and may be less prone to damage by the athletes, said AGD Spokesperson Eugene Antenucci, DDS, FAGD. “Over-the counter mouthguards are not fitted to the athlete’s mouth, making them less comfortable than custom guards made by a dentist,” said Dr. Antenucci. “When a mouthguard is not comfortable, the athlete is likely to chew it, reducing its thickness and resulting in less protection.”