A mouth guard is a protective device that decreases injuries to the teeth and gums. These devices can be bought at stores or can be custom-made by dentists for more comfortable, long-term wear.
How is a mouth guard used?
In general, most people think of mouth guards when they think of contact sports, but these devices can also be used to help treat and prevent certain medical conditions.
The most common use of mouth guards is during sports like boxing, football and hockey. These sports tend to have a high level of physical contact that can lead to injuries. By using such protection for practices and competitions, athletes can suffer fewer oral injuries. The devices protect the teeth from chips and breaks and protect the soft tissue of the mouth from injury, including the lips and tongue. Without proper protection, contact sports can lead to lacerations and tooth loss that can require medical intervention from a dentist or oral surgeon.
Teeth clenching and grinding
Bruxism, also known as teeth grinding, is a medical condition where a person physically rubs the lower and upper teeth together. While grinding and clenching can be seen during times of stress or due to other medical conditions, most bruxism cases happen when people are asleep. The constant grinding of teeth can lead to dental issues and may also cause earaches, headaches and damage to the temporomandibular joint.
A mouth guard for bruxism is custom-made by a dentist for patient comfort. It is designed to prevent the person from clenching their teeth, especially when a person is asleep and cannot control the habit. Over time, teeth grinding and clenching can weaken the enamel of the teeth. When the enamel is worn down, a person can develop more cavities, which inevitably leads to tooth loss.
These guards must be worn over an extended period of time. The length of time a person must wear this device depends on the individual ability to correct grinding and clenching.
Sleep apnea is a condition that occurs when a person stops breathing periodically while asleep. While some cases of sleep apnea occur due to the brain not sending the right signals to the body’s muscles, obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the brain signals correctly but the muscles in the throat relax too much. When a person sleeps, the body relaxes, including the muscles inside the mouth and throat. These muscles drop into the back of the throat, physically blocking the airway.
For mild to moderate cases of obstruction, dental devices called mandibular advancement devices are similar in structure to mouth guards. Custom-fit to a patient’s mouth, these dental devices push the tongue and lower jaw more forward than the natural position. By shifting the jaw, the mouth guard keeps the tongue and tissues at the back of the mouth from falling into the throat and obstructing the airway during sleep.
Mouth guards are important to protect the mouth during sports. However, even for non-athletes, these versatile devices can be just as important in providing relief from certain medical conditions.
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