Do I Need a Dental Health Mouth Guard?

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on January 18, 2024
6 min read

Mouth guards are coverings worn over teeth. They're often used to protect teeth from injury from teeth grinding and during sports. You might also need a mouth guard if you have a jaw problem, snore, or have sleep apnea (a condition that causes pauses in breathing while you sleep). There are many types of mouth guards. Both children and adults can wear them.

There are three types of mouth guards:

  • Stock mouth protectors. These mouth guards are preformed and come ready to wear. They're inexpensive and can be bought at most sporting good stores and department stores. However, little can be done to adjust their fit, meaning they're bulky, make breathing and talking difficult, and they provide little or no protection. Dentists don't recommend their use.
  • Boil and bite mouth protectors. This type can be bought at many sporting goods stores and may offer a better fit than stock mouth protectors. The "boil and bite" mouth guard is made from thermoplastic material. It is placed in hot water to soften, then placed in the mouth and shaped around the teeth using finger and tongue pressure.
  • Custom-fitted mouth protectors. These are individually designed and made in a dental office or a professional laboratory based on your dentist's instructions. First, your dentist will make an impression of your teeth and a mouth guard is then molded over the model using a special material. Due to the use of the special material and because of the extra time and work involved, a custom-made mouth guard is more expensive than the other types, but it provides the most comfort and protection.

Generally, mouth guards cover your upper teeth only, but in some instances (such as if you wear braces or another fixed dental appliance on your lower jaw), your dentist will make a mouth guard for the lower teeth as well. Your dentist can suggest the best mouth guard for you. An effective mouth guard should be comfortable, resist tears, be durable and easy to clean, and shouldn't affect your breathing or speech.

If you grind your teeth at night, a special mouth guard-type of dental appliance -- called a nocturnal bite plate or bite splint -- may be created to prevent tooth damage.

If you need a custom mouth guard, your dentist will first take dental impressions. These are imprints of your mouth that are used to create a model. They'll send the impressions to a dental lab. There, a technician will make the mouth guard specifically to fit your teeth. The whole process can take up to two weeks.

Mouth guards should be used by anyone--children and adults -- who play contact sports such as football, boxing, soccer, ice hockey, basketball, lacrosse, and field hockey. But even those participating in noncontact sports (for example, gymnastics) and any recreational activity (for example, skateboarding, mountain biking) that might pose a risk of injury to the mouth would benefit from wearing a protective mouth guard.

Mouth guard for clenching

Adults and children who grind their teeth at night should have a nocturnal bite plate or bite splint made to prevent tooth damage. A mouth guard can position your jaw to lessen the damage caused by clenching and grinding. A mouth guard can also give your jaw muscles a break from tensing up, which may ease pain.

Dental mouth guard

Since an injury to the face could damage braces or other fixed appliances, a properly fitted mouth guard may be particularly important for people who wear braces or have fixed bridge work. Your dentist or orthodontist can determine the mouth guard that will provide the best protection for your unique mouth work. 

An important reminder: do not wear any orthodontic retainers or other removable appliance during any contact sports or during any recreational activities that put your mouth at risk for injury. One exception is Invisalign trays, which can often be worn during sports sometimes along with a mouth guard. If you're using Invisalign trays and playing sports, check with your dentist about whether or not you should wear them.

Bruxism mouth guard

Bruxism means you clench, grind, or gnash your teeth. Mouth guards can protect your teeth from damage caused by these habits. Most people grind their teeth while they sleep, so mouth guards for bruxism are often worn at night. But they can be worn during the day, too. 

Mouth guards may help different medical conditions, such as:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Snoring
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders

Mouth guard for sleep apnea

If you have sleep apnea, a custom-made mouth guard can shift your jaw to keep your airway open while you sleep. You may wear the mouth guard along with a CPAP (a special machine that helps treat sleep apnea). Or, you can use the mouth guard on its own. You'll likely need to wear it every night. 

Snoring mouth guard

Snoring usually happens because your tongue and tissues in your throat become too relaxed. A mouth guard for snoring works much like a sleep apnea mouth guard. It helps reposition your jaw to keep your airway open, so tissues can't relax. A custom-made mouth guard is ideal for people who snore.

Mouth guard for TMJ

TMJ disorders affect your jaw joints and nearby muscles and ligaments. They can cause jaw pain, headaches, and problems with opening and closing your mouth. Mouth guards may prevent grinding and clenching, which could improve symptoms of TMJ. But some research has shown mixed results on the effectiveness of mouth guards for TMJ. Most doctors recommend a custom-made mouth guard if you have TMJ. 

Because accidents can happen during any physical activity, the advantage of using a mouth guard during sports is that it can help limit the risk of mouth-related injuries to your lips, tongue, and soft tissues of your mouth. Mouth guards also help you avoid chipped or broken teeth, nerve damage to a tooth, or even tooth loss.

Boxing mouth guard

A boxing mouth guard offers protection if you get hit in the face. They can help prevent tooth, lip, and mouth injuries. A boxing mouth guard can be stock, boil and bite, or custom. 

Football mouth guard

Football mouth guards protect players on the field. Some research has suggested that mouth guards may soften a blow and prevent sports-related concussions. If you play football, you can choose between mouth guards that are stock, boil and bite, or custom. 

To care for your mouth guard:

  • Place the mouth guard in a firm, perforated container to store or transport it. This permits air circulation and helps to prevent damage. If the mouth guard is acrylic, keep it in fresh, clean water.
  • Protect the mouth guard from high temperatures--such as hot water, hot surfaces, or direct sunlight--to minimize distorting its shape.
  • Occasionally check the mouth guard for general wear. If you find holes or tears in it or if it becomes loose or causes discomfort, replace it.
  • Keep your mouth guard out of reach of pets.
  • Bring the mouth guard to each regularly scheduled dental visit to have your dentist exam it.

How long do mouth guards last?

The lifespan of a mouth guard depends on the type and how well you care for it. With proper care, a custom-made mouth guard can last for several years. Store-bought mouth guards usually need to be replaced a few times a year.

Rinse your mouth guard with cold water or with a mouth rinse before and after each use or clean it with a mild soap and a toothbrush.

  • Clean the mouth guard in cool, soapy water and rinse it thoroughly.
  • Let your mouth guard air-dry. 

A mouth guard can prevent teeth grinding, protect you from sports-related injuries, and improve symptoms of certain medical conditions. There are several different types of mouth guards. Talk to your dentist about the best option for you.  

What is the best type of mouth guard to use?

Typically, custom-made mouth guards are considered the best. That's because they fit your exact mouth, which provides optimal protection. They are also the most expensive type.

Are mouth guards covered by insurance?

Some dental insurance plans cover the cost of custom-made mouth guards. But every policy is different, so it's important to check with your provider.