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Between tackles, blocks and personal fouls, football is filled with physical contact that can result in serious injuries to players’ mouths. For the best shot at keeping injured gums and broken teeth at bay, athletes should always put on football mouthguards before stepping onto the field.

Why Are Mouthguards Necessary?
While some coaches and leagues require their players to wear mouthguards, it’s not always mandatory, so it’s important for you to take responsibility for your own child’s oral safety. When a mouthguard is worn correctly during games and practices, it prevents damage to a player’s gums, lips, tongue and upper and lower teeth. In fact, the American Dental Association (ADA) notes that athletes who don’t wear mouthguards are 60 times more likely to sustain damage to their teeth.

Keep in mind that players at all ages and skill levels are at risk for oral injuries, so football mouthguards are just as important for athletes in recreational or pee wee leagues as they are for high school and college students.

How Can You Get the Best Fit?
There are several types of mouthguards, including stock mouthguards and “boil and bite” guards that you can buy from athletic stores. However, the ADA recommends that players use custom-made guards, which offer the best fit and the highest level of comfort. To purchase one of these mouthguards you’ll need to visit your dentist, who can take into account any special circumstances you may have, including braces, bridge work or a protruding jaw. And while a custom-fitted guard is typically the priciest type of mouthguard, it can pay off if it prevents an expensive injury later down the line.

Once you’ve purchased a mouthguard, you can help maintain its shape by avoiding sustained exposure to direct sunlight and keeping it away from hot water and hot surfaces. If your mouthguard tears or loosens it could be less effective at protecting your teeth. If you notice any damage, take the guard to your dentist so he can determine whether it’s time for a replacement.