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When your kids play sports, you do everything possible to keep them safe. You invest in protective gear and proper shoes and get approval from your pediatrician before the first practice. Don’t forget to also consider your child’s oral health.

What Is a Mouth Guard?

This small, spongy gel-based piece fits into the mouth and cups the teeth and gums. Properly fitting mouth guards should allow for unrestricted breathing and speech during use. The retainer-like sports accessory is suggested for all athletes who participate in contact sports, including but not limited to soccer, football, basketball, roller derby, wrestling, hockey and martial arts. The use of a guard can protect your son or daughter from chipping or losing a tooth, biting the tongue or damaging the jaw. Not all coaches and athletic programs require mouth guards, so using this type of protective sports equipment may be a personal choice.

Are There Different Types?

All mouth guards have the same basic U-shape design; however, they do come with various features. Some have straps to attach the guard to a helmet or neck lanyard for ease of use. Others are molded to fit over orthodontic braces or are custom-made to fit your child’s teeth. Some guards are infused with flavoring, created in bold neon colors or printed with a fun design (e.g., of vampire teeth or a sports team logo) to encourage your child to use it regularly.

How Do Guards Work?

Mouth guards cushion your child’s teeth against blows to the face that could cause jaw fractures or injuries to the lips and teeth, according to the American Dental Association. A guard is removable and should be worn during each practice and each game. Avoid spreading germs by sanitizing the guard with a denture rinse or a quick brushing with toothpaste between each use.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry reminds parents that mouth guards are one of the least expensive pieces of sports equipment that can prevent oral injuries sustained while playing sports, including lacerations in the mouth caused by orthodontic braces or retainers.