As an athlete, you know the importance of your athletic mouthguard when it comes to preventing dental and jaw injuries. But did you know that a mouthguard can also make you sick when not taken care of properly? Let’s put your mouthguard under a microscope and see what we find!
Your Mouthguard is a Breeding Ground That Can Make You Sick
First, let’s look at your mouth. Your mouth is a warm, wet environment which is, unfortunately, the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. As a matter of fact, at any given time, 800 to 1,000 different types of bacteria may reside inside your mouth. Yikes!!
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While many of these microbes, such as probiotic bacterial species, are beneficial for digestion, others can contribute to tooth decay, gum disease, or other medical conditions. It is this dangerous bacteria that we will focus on.
So, now you know you already have bacteria in your mouth, let’s add a mouthguard. This appliance picks up the bacteria from your mouth, but it can also pick up bacteria and viruses from other places and introduce them into your mouth. For instance, do you always store your mouthguard in a case, or does it just get tossed in the gym bag with your dirty uniform and gear? Does it always stay in your mouth or does it occasionally fall out onto the field only to be shoved back in your mouth during a game? Just think about what it picks up in those cases! And then you put it straight back into your mouth!
The truth is, what you may be putting in your mouth is really scary! Without proper care, your mouthguard may be introducing bacteria, viruses, fungus, and even mold. Some common microbes found on mouthguards include:
- Candida Albicans – Candida albicans are a form of yeast and this is commonly found in the mouth without any problem. However, when this yeast grows out of control, it can cause serious infections in the mouth, as well as spread into the bloodstream and infect the kidneys, heart, or brain.
- Streptococcus – If you have ever suffered from strep throat, you may be familiar with this one. Unfortunately, streptococcus bacteria, typically group A or B, are commonly found on mouthguards. While streptococcus can lead to strep throat, it can also lead to scarlet fever, impetigo, toxic shock syndrome, pneumonia, meningitis, cellulitis, and even the flesh-eating disease necrotizing fasciitis.
- Staphylococcus – Commonly referred to as staph, staphylococcus is responsible for a variety of different infections and is often present on tested mouthguards. Staph, as well as the more concerning methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, can cause serious health risks.
A Bad Mouthguard Can Make You Sick
- Stomatitis, Including Canker Sores
- Gum Disease
- Tooth Decay
- Bacterial Infections
- Staph Infections
- Strep Throat
Studies Show the Importance of Good Care
Studies show the importance of wearing a mouthguard during sports to prevent injuries to the teeth, jaw, and even in the prevention of concussions. But studies, like the 2009 study in Sports Health, show these same mouthguards contribute to oral lesions and injuries, as well as other health concerns because of bacterial growth. The good news is, this study also shows that there are things you can do to reduce the risk of health complications from your mouthguard. Let’s take a look at some of the things they recommend in order to reduce your risk.
Reduce the Risk of Mouthguard Contamination and Stop Getting Sick
- Good Oral Hygiene – Reducing the bacteria on your mouthguard begins with reducing bacteria in your mouth. Regular brushing and flossing help remove food particles, plaque, and tartar that contribute to bacterial growth. Always brush your teeth before placing your mouthguard in your mouth.
- Do NOT Share Your Mouthguard – While it is common for teammates to share equipment, keep your mouthguard to yourself. Letting another teammate use your guard is a way to potentially spread bacteria.
- Always Use a Case with Vents – When the game or practice is over, don’t just toss your mouthguard in your bag with the rest of your uniform. Your uniform is dirty and can spread bacteria. Always store your mouthguard in a case with air vents. A solid case can contribute to mold growth on the mouthguard.
- Use a Custom-fit Guard – Custom-fit guards, like those available from SportingSmiles, fit your mouth much better than stock or boil and bite options. Because the fit is more secure, chances are the mouthguard will stay in your mouth during practice or a game. Loose mouthguards can fall out, picking new bacteria up from the ground which you then put in your mouth.
- Always Clean Your Guard – Regular rinsing and cleaning your guard is essential to remove mouth film and bacteria. For more information on the best ways to clean your guard, visit HERE.
- Have a Backup Guard – If, for some reason, your mouthguard comes out and falls on the ground, you don’t want to place that guard back in your mouth. Having a back-up guard allows you to replace a dirty mouthguard with a fresh replacement.
- Replace Damaged Guards – If you notice cracks or tears in your mouthguard, you need to replace it as soon as possible. Cracks and tears provide hiding places for bacteria. In addition, regular replacement of mouthguards should occur every season.
- Soak Guards Before Storing – After cleaning, it is a good idea to sanitize and soak your guard before storage. At SportingSmiles, we recommend Fresh Guard by Efferdent for soaking.
- Avoid Biting or Chewing on Guard – While you may see professional athletes chewing on their mouthguard, regular chewing can actually increase the risk of bacterial growth. Chewing can tear or damage the mouthguard, leading to hiding places for bacteria.
Your mouthguard should offer protection and not make you sick. At SportingSmiles, we know the importance of a good custom-fit mouthguard and the practice of good mouthguard care. We offer the same high-quality custom-fit mouthguards as your dentist, but thanks to our patented self-impression kit, you can get your mouthguard at a fraction of the cost. This makes having a back-up guard an easier option too. For more information on our line of mouthguards, visit Athletic Mouthguards today.