Mouthguards keep your smile safe

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Proper equipment is a necessity when participating in sports. Playing softball without a bat or soccer without a ball would be difficult at best. However, a mouthguard is one piece of equipment that is often overlooked when people pack their gym bags.

The truth is athletes are 60 times more likely to suffer harm to the teeth when not wearing a mouthguard.

According to the American Dental Association, when properly fitted, a mouthguard will cushion blows that can cause broken teeth and injuries to the lips, tongue, face or jaw, as well as reduce the severity and incidence of concussions.

Who needs a mouthguard? A common thought is that only contact sports, like hockey or football, necessitate a mouthguard. However, studies show that even participants in non-contact sports, such as gymnastics, skateboarding and basketball, can prevent possible injuries to the mouth and jaws by wearing mouthguards.

What kinds of mouthguards are available? Ready-made (stock) mouthguards are available for free from the Osan Fitness Center or purchased from the base exchange. These are adequate for most non-contact sports, but do not offer the same level of protection as a custom fit mouthguard.

"Boil-and-bite" mouthguards, which are immersed in boiling water, transferred to cold water and then adapted to the teeth, fit better and offer more protection than stock mouthguards. However, boil-and-bite guards may become too thin for maximum protection.

A custom mouthguard made by your dentist from a mold of your upper teeth offers maximum fit, comfort and protection. When choosing a mouth guard, look for one that:

- Is resilient and tear resistant

- Fits properly and is comfortable

- Is easy to clean

- Doesn't restrict breathing or speech

How do you care for your mouthguard once you have one? Rinse your mouthguard before and after each use with cold water. You can also clean your mouthguard with a toothbrush and toothpaste. When you aren't using it, store your mouthguard in a perforated container. This allows for air circulation and helps prevent damage. Avoid exposing your mouthguard to sources of high temperatures such as hot water or direct sunlight which can distort the mouthguard. Always check your mouthguard for holes and to see whether it has become loose. Replace an ill-fitting or damaged mouthguard to ensure maximum protection each time you wear it.

Protect your smile! Wear a mouthguard while getting "Fit to Fight." For more information, contact the 51st Dental Squadron at 784-2108.