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In many sports, a mouth guard is an important piece of equipment for safeguarding your teeth, protecting them from breaking or chipping. It will also prevent damage to the soft tissue of the jaw. This vital piece of equipment is too often tossed into a gym bag and forgotten after practice, allowing bacteria, yeast, and fungi to form. It is important to know how to keep your mouth guard as clean as possible to prevent any unnecessary health problems.

You Put That in Your Mouth?

Dirty mouth guards pose a health risk to athletes. In a 2011 study published in Sports Medicine, investigators found a wide variety of moulds, yeast and bacteria on the mouth guards of football players. It is very important to thoroughly clean your mouth guard after using it in order to prevent microorganisms from making their home in your appliance, and subsequently in your mouth.

Rinsing with Water Is Not Enough

Running water over your mouth guard is not enough to make it truly clean. The American Dental Association suggests a clean mouth guard by brushing it with a toothbrush and toothpaste regularly to remove any built-up debris, then rinse it with soapy water. Researchers have found that soaking mouth guards in antimicrobial solutions can reduce the number of foreign organisms, as well.

Keep your mouth guard clean by storing it in its protective case. Make sure the case has ventilation to allow it to fully dry and prevent the regrowth of bacteria. You should also make sure to clean the case regularly.

Know When to Replace Your Mouth Guard

Your mouth guard starts off sleek and smooth, but after heavy use can develop pits and cracks that make great homes for bacteria. Rough patches near your gums can break the skin, creating a place for bacteria to enter your body.

Whether you’re using a boil and bite mouth guard or a custom guard from your dentist, it’s important to replace it when it begins to show signs of wear.

Cleaning your mouth guard after playing sports shouldn’t be an afterthought. Keeping bacteria and fungi from growing on your equipment will also keep them from entering your body and affecting your health.