Sports guards are a specialized type of mouth guard meant to protect teeth and gums against impact and injury. While they are typically called “sports guards” because of their usage in sports like football and basketball, they are actually useful for a variety of physical activities kids often engage in.

In this article we’ll discuss the practical benefits along with some useful statistics, and make some recommendations on what you can look for in a mouth guard for your child.

Does my child need a sports guard?

Whether your child is actively involved in sports — on a school team or otherwise — using a sports guard has well-documented benefits.

Back in 2012 the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation shared the number of teeth their data suggested would be knocked out that year from sports activities that year alone. That number?

3 million teeth.

Nearly all pediatric dentists agree that sports-related oral injuries make up a notable portion of impact injuries they treat.

Here are a couple other surprising statistics:

  • 84% of children do not wear mouth guards while playing sports, according to a survey conducted by the American Association of Orthodontists.
  • Children not wearing a mouth guard during sports are 60 times more likely to damage their teeth, according to that same National Youth Sports Safety Foundation study.
  • Repairs to a permanent tooth can costs thousands over a lifetime.

How does a mouth guard protect teeth?

Mouth guards, particularly custom-fitted ones, cover the teeth and gums and provide a cushion in the event of an impact.

This works by a general truism in physics, namely that force distributed over a larger area is less intense than that same amount of force concentrated on one small spot. It’s the reason people can lay on a bed of nails without injury, but laying on one nail would be bad news.

Sports mouth guards help protect against:

  • Chipped teeth
  • Cracked or broken teeth
  • Teeth being knocked out
  • Lacerated gums

As far as protecting gums goes, the cushion material also protects gums from sharp objects, such as the edges of a pad or helmet that might collide with a child’s mouth.

How to select a mouth guard for your child:

You can find generic mouth guards in sporting goods stores, and they will work in a pinch. What we recommend, though, is to get a custom-fitted one.

You can start this process at your dentist’s office, where they can take a mold of your mouth and send out for the mouth guard. The generic mouth guards are the most affordable option, but a proper fit improves its effectiveness.

Ideally, a mouth guard should:

  • Be made of a material that doesn’t tear easily
  • Not restrict breathing or prevent the mouth from closing fully
  • Be made of easy to clean materials

There are also boil and bite mouth guards, where you heat them up by boiling them, cool slightly, and then bite down on them. When they are soft and malleable, your teeth leave an impression in them so they can fit a bit more comfortably than generic guards. They tend to stay in better and shift less while running and moving.

However, these tend to be softer by design and can be chewy. They are also often larger and sometimes less comfortable than custom made ones.

Custom made mouth guards are sleeker, and much more easily allow talking and breathing while wearing.