What is a mouthguard?
A mouthguard is an apparatus most often used for injury prevention and reduction of the gums, teeth and lips. The other purposes are medical in nature, e.g. as an aid for sleep apnea. It is used by placing it on top of the teeth, so that they are covered. The fit is important as it needs to be large enough for the teeth to fit in, but not large enough for it to fall off with the first gape.
How was it invented?
Before gloves were used in professional boxing, the competitors fought with bare knuckles. Because there was nothing soft to even merely absorb the punch, facial injuries were much more common- especially the dental ones. It was so serious that boxers were often forced to forfeit matches due to a broken tooth or split lips. To prevent this, the boxers tried many options, even resorting to putting a piece of wood between the teeth and clenching the entire match. It worked, but sub-optimally, as it was too difficult to concentrate when having to clench the teeth at all times.
In order to mend this issue, a British dentist by the name of Woolf Krause began to manufacture pieces of rubber strands for the boxers to cover their teeth with. The strands were made from the latex of gutta-percha trees. Although this was a better solution than pieces of wood, it was still very impractical. They were single-use and the boxers were still forced to clench their teeth during the entire match.
Krause’s son, Philip, who was an amateur boxer himself, decided to improve upon this design. Philip decided upon using a material which is more plastic, meaning that it’s easier to shape it into the desired form. The “gum shield”, as they called it, was considered an unfair advantage, cheating. This caused it’s popularity to drop from 1921 and on. It finally recovered in 1927, when a boxing match had to be interrupted because one of the boxers had a serious lip injury due to a fractured tooth.
During the 1940’s, it was concluded that most of the injuries in football were of dental cause. This major issue was solved by Rodney O. Lilyquist, who made what he called an “acrylic splint” out of a transparent material. The material used was acrylic resin, which is also thermoplastic, which means that custom-fits were made a possibility. The mouthguard gained popularity with football and basketball players.
Already by 1950, the American Dental Association began promoting mouthguards, eventually starting to recommend them for every contact sport, during the 1960’s. Only two years later, a mouthguard rule was imposed on high school football players. The same occurred in the NCAA, only 11 years later. The mouthguard has made it into the mainstream now and is available for anyone to use.
What types of mouthguards are there?
This type is manufactured in a certain shape and is not able to form or adapt to the users teeth. It is only recommended if it is used short-term. Can be found in almost any sports store.
Boil and Bite:
Made out of a thermoplastic material, it can be formed into the shape of the teeth. This is done as such: Put the mouthguard in boiling water and keep it there for a few seconds. Take it out and put it under lukewarm water in order to cool it off just enough to not cause burns to the mouth. Put the mouthguard inside the mouth so that it covers the teeth. Keep the teeth clenched for a minute and rinse the mouthguard with cold water. These are more expensive and durable than stock mouthguards and can be found in most sports stores.
Mostly used by professionals and for applications other than sport, tailor-fit mouthguards are made out by specialists. It is created using a mold, made by using dental putty. These mouthguards offer greater protection, at a better fit, and allow the user to drink water and talk comfortably. This type is the most expensive and can cost over $100. They are usually made by dentists, but companies who make them do exist as well.
Why should I use a mouthguard?
Almost everything discussed up until this point was regarding protection from injury. The mouthguard has a second function that is unknown to many. It maximizes the force production. What does this mean? Studies have shown that clenching your teeth during exercise, with or without a mouthguard, increases both the average and the maximum force output. There is one more reason besides the obvious one for not clenching your teeth as hard as you can without protection. An other study has found that using a mouthguard further increases the maximal force output and stability, especially in the lower body. These claims have even been made anecdotally, without knowledge of the scientific data. Many powerlifters use mouthguards because they claim that they are stronger that way. Brian Shaw, the winner of World’s Strongest Man for 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016 has also used a mouthguard in competitions.
If your goal is maximum performance, whether it is regarding strength or endurance, there is sufficient reason to believe that a mouthguard would be of aid. The best choice for the recreational lifter is the boil and bite mouthguard, in which price and performance are balanced well. For competitive lifters, a custom-fit mouthguard is worth considering.
– Askovic Milos