General Dentistry Overview
Dental health is the totality of oral health, including teeth, gums, and other maxillofacial (jaw and face) areas. Dentists work to prevent, diagnose, and treat the disorders and diseases affecting these areas.
Like all medical professionals, dentists prefer preventative care when at all possible. Twice-yearly dental visits help promote oral health and help your dental provider discover potential issues in the early stages, when they are easier to address. When dental issues do occur, dentists have a wide variety of procedures available to address their patients’ needs.
Restorative procedures are those that your dental health provider uses to restore your mouth to a state of health. He or she performs an examination to determine your needs, using a variety of tests and instruments to diagnose the problem. Next, your dentist develops and implements a treatment plan based on your unique needs.
Decay, trauma, or normal wear may cause structural damage to a tooth. When this happens, your dentist may prescribe a dental filling to restore the tooth. Commonly used to repair a tooth after the removal of a cavity, materials used to create dental fillings include amalgam, composite resin, gold, and porcelain. Your dentist helps you determine which filling material best suits your needs, but talk to your insurance provider to determine coverage.
Composite (white) and amalgam (silver) fillings are the two most common materials used for dental fillings. Each has its own list of pros and cons, and most dental insurers cover both.
Composite Resin Fillings
People often prefer composite resin because it looks more like their natural tooth. Technology has improved the strength and durability of this material, and it requires less tooth preparation, meaning the tooth itself is stronger as your dentist removes less of the remaining healthy tooth structure in preparing it for a composite filling.
The time to complete the procedure is a little longer than with a traditional amalgam filling. Your dentist isolates the tooth, which helps it bond with the material. He or she then applies adhesives and the composite resin, and then hardens the filling with a bonding light.
Amalgam fillings have a proven track record for being strong, safe, and durable. Their main detriment is the silver color, which makes them quite noticeable. In addition, they require more tooth preparation, which results in the patient losing more of the healthy tooth structure before the amalgam may be applied.
The time to complete this procedure is shorter than with composite resin fillings. In addition, all dentists are adept at this procedure, due to its commonality as a dental filling material.
When restoring the surface of a tooth, such as a chip or a crack, dentists use a technique called bonding. The procedure applies a tooth-colored, composite material to the tooth’s surface, and then shapes and polishes it.
Treatment begins with a consultation and examination to determine suitability of bonding as a treatment for your particular issues. If your dentist recommends bonding, he or she may suggest a whitening procedure to ensure surrounding teeth match the bonding material. In addition, when using bonding to alter the shape or length of your natural tooth, the dentist may take an impression to create a model.
If your teeth have extensive damage, your dentist may recommend a different treatment.
The Bonding Procedure
Most dentists complete direct composite bonding procedures in a single visit, with no wait for the lab to build the restorative. However, complicated treatments may require multiple visits. Direct composite bonding is popular to repair chips and cracks, disguise gaps or slightly misshapen teeth, or serve as a minimally invasive veneer for stained and/or discolored teeth.
Adhesive bonding is the attachment of a restorative tooth, using a bonding agent and adhesive, and then curing the attachment using a special light. Common applications include bridges, crowns, inlays/onlays, and veneers.
With either bonding type, your dentist isolates the treatment area and applies anesthetic if required. He or she then prepares the tooth surface to improve adhesion and applies the bonding agent. This is where the two treatments diverge.
With direct composite, your dentist applies the composite resin to the tooth and then shapes and sculpts it before applying the curing light to harden the material. He or she repeats these steps until the composite reaches the required shape. Finally, the dentist applies a protective finish.
When applying a lab-created restorative, the dentist applies the adhesive to the restorative, places it, and uses the curing light to help harden and bond it to the tooth.
Both types of bonding typically cause a bit of discomfort immediately following treatment. Your dentist should explain how long to expect this, but if pain persists, call your dental provider.
Follow your doctor’s post-procedure instructions exactly to ensure the best results. These include instructions regarding care and habits that may damage your new restorations, such as chewing ice and other hard items.
Dental braces and retainers are the most common orthodontia used to correct misaligned teeth. Although many people consider orthodontic treatment to be a purely aesthetic procedure, it also protects against decay, gum disease, and more.
Crooked, crowded teeth resist thorough cleaning, significantly increasing risk for cavities and tooth loss due to gum disease. Patients also experience jaw problems due to malocclusion (commonly known as bad bite), the result of protruding upper or lower teeth. This also negatively affects speech and even the ability to chew. Researchers even suspect that periodontal infections affect heart health via the bloodstream. Properly aligned teeth help guard against all of these issues.
Malocclusion is the top reason dentists recommend orthodontics. Patients have a bad bite for a variety of reasons, including:
- Extra/Not enough teeth: Patients may have extra teeth, or some teeth that never fully erupt, both of which affect bite.
- Misaligned jaw or bone structure: This often causes malocclusion and may create difficulties in speech and eating, or cause teeth grinding or TMJ.
- Small mouth: This creates limited tooth space, inhibiting tooth growth and even causing permanent teeth not to erupt.
- Thumb sucking: Technically known as a “poor muscular functional habit,” sucking on one’s thumb (or other fingers) during and/or after infancy often causes facial or dental developmental issues.
- Tongue thrusting: This is when a child regularly and forcefully presses his or her tongue against the lips, causing the teeth to protrude or leading to an open bite.
Dental braces consist of brackets, arch wires, and elastic ties.
- Brackets attach directly to the teeth (front or back) and come in a variety of materials, including metal, ceramics, and composites.
- Arch wires are highly flexible and attach to the brackets to reposition the teeth through constant pressure.
- Elastic ties help secure the arch wires.
Recommended Age for Braces
Typically, children display the need for orthodontia as early as age 6. Often, genetics plays a role, but not always. Any of the environmental items that cause malocclusion – thumb sucking, tongue thrusting, etc. – may override genetics and manifest as misalignment or similar issues.
To ensure optimum results, most orthodontists recommend braces between the ages of 8 and 14, with the first evaluation occurring before age 8, while the child still has baby teeth. At that point, the dentist or orthodontist establishes jaw growth and diagnoses likely future issues.
Of course, adults also benefit from braces. After all, risk of decay and other dental problems increases with age. However, adults require braces for a longer period, as bone growth ceases with adulthood. In addition, full correction once the patient reaches adulthood may require treatment beyond braces, including surgery and tooth extraction.
When a tooth is diseased or its nerve becomes infected, you probably need a root canal to save the infected tooth. The procedure involves removing infected tissues from the tooth’s root chamber before filling the area with an antibacterial and placing a crown.
The most common sign that you need a root canal is severe pain. However, you may also experience milder pain, as well as swelling and/or irritation in the surrounding tissue, or tooth discoloration.
Root Canal Procedure
Depending on your particular circumstances, your dental provider may prescribe an antibiotic before performing the root canal. Typically, your provider also orders x-rays.
After your dentist, periodontist, or endodontist (someone who specializes in root canals) examines your tooth and diagnoses a root canal, he or she anesthetizes the area to protect you from feeling pain during the procedure.
Next, the doctor drills into the tooth to access the root area (pulp chamber and canal). He or she then uses an instrument and diagnostic equipment to remove all traces of infection. After ensuring all infected tissues are gone, your doctor disinfects the tooth, often filling it with an anti-bacterial agent before sealing the tooth.
Sometimes, the patient receives a restoration, such as a filling or crown, immediately. Other times, the patient receives a temporary filling to allow the doctor to monitor healing before placing a permanent restoration.
Although patients typically feel no pain during the procedure, the next 24 to 48 hours may include some discomfort. Your dental provider either provides a prescription for pain or recommends an over-the-counter medication.
Dental crowns replace teeth with severe decay or other damage. Some dentists create crowns onsite, but most use a lab, where technicians make crowns from a variety of materials, but porcelain and porcelain composites are the most common.
Your dental provider performs an examination of the damaged tooth and orders a crown if damage is too extensive for a direct composite bonding or similar treatment. He or she may also order a crown to replace a tooth or repair a tooth after a root canal.
During this initial consultation, the doctor may take an impression of the area, using this to create the restoration. The consultation is also when your dentist discusses treatment options, explains the procedure, and offers advice for before and after care.
Dental Crown Procedure
Typically, patients receive a fitted, temporary crown to protect the tooth while the dental lab prepares the permanent crown. If the dentist creates crowns onsite, he or she typically performs the entire procedure in a single visit, negating the need for a temporary crown.
The dentist places the completed crown, bonding it using an adhesive. Finally, he or she offers detailed instructions regarding care and oral hygiene, especially for where the crown meets the gum tissue.
A dental bridge uses an artificial tooth called a pontic to replace missing teeth, anchoring it to the surrounding teeth. You cannot remove a fixed bridge, including cantilever bridges, conventional fixed bridges, and resin-bonded bridges. The first two options include shaping surrounding teeth before placing crowns and attaching the pontic. Dentists choose the third, resin-bonded option when surrounding gums and teeth are healthy. It is also a popular choice to replace front teeth.
Dental Bridge Consultation and Treatment
After deciding that a dental bridge is the ideal treatment, your dentist discusses the process and materials with you, guided by your personal and medical history (whether you grind your teeth, where the bridge will go, etc.), as well as your insurance coverage.
The dentist takes x-rays and impressions of the treatment area, and may take photographs. He or she typically applies a local anesthetic before placing the abutment (the anchor or crown on the surrounding teeth). After placing the abutment, the dentist takes another impression. The technician creating the pontic uses this impression to ensure it fits properly.
Once your dentist receives the pontic, he or she fits and cements it in place. Before you leave, you receive instructions for care and recuperation. Typically, the dentist recommends a bridge floss threader to floss the bridge properly.
Dentures replace teeth that are either missing or require extraction due to extensive damage or disease. Dentists typically recommend dentures to replace missing teeth to promote gum health and improve appearance, as missing teeth cause your face to sag, significantly aging you.
Procedure for Dentures
Your initial consultation includes an examination of gums and supporting jawbone and other tissues. You may require a bone graft, tooth extraction, or oral surgery to correct a bony ridge. The doctor also takes an impression to create your dentures and/or abutment (the device connecting the dentures).
If your dentist removes any teeth, he or she typically places a temporary denture during healing.
Complete dentures replace all teeth in the upper or lower jaw (or both). Overdentures are removable and cover any remaining teeth, resting on the roots. Removable partial dentures replace missing teeth, surrounded by remaining, natural teeth. Your dentist may place a device to anchor your removable dentures during the day. You remove these at night to promote gum health. Before placing them in the morning, thoroughly brush the gums, tongue, and palate. This helps guard against plaque and stimulates the gums to keep them healthy. Brush your dentures every night and then soak them (follow your dentist’s instructions and recommendations). No matter what type of cleanser you use, even ultrasonic cleaners, nothing replaces brushing to keep your dentures clean and healthy.
Adjusting to Your Dentures
Although some discomfort is common when first receiving your new dentures, follow up with your dentist within 24 hours, as they may require adjustments. If he or she determines your discomfort to be normal, yet soreness or irritation continues, talk to your dentist again.
When learning to chew with your dentures, chew slowly, preferably with small bites of soft food. Be sure to use both sides of your mouth simultaneously as you acclimate to your new dentures, as well. The next step is larger bites, and then you may advance to harder foods.
Speaking also takes time to master, but you should see improvement within two weeks. Dentists recommend practicing by reading aloud to improve quicker.
Readjusting and Replacing Dentures
Ill-fitting dentures cause pain and irritation. Over time, as your gums and jawbone change, dentures often become loose. Your dentist may be able to adjust them. However, dentures typically require replacement every five to 10 years. You also need to replace damaged dentures to protect your oral health.
Gum disease requires periodontal treatment, which varies depending on the stage of gum disease.
In the early stages of gum disease, your dentist or periodontist treats you every three months, typically with tooth scaling and cleaning. He or she may also recommend a medicated mouthwash, and of course regular flossing. In later stages of gum disease, possible treatments include deep-plane scaling and surgery.
The goal is treating periodontal disease as early as possible, as it causes significant damage to teeth and other surrounding tissue and bone.
The Signs and Causes of Gum Disease
Gum disease typically causes the underlying jawbone to recede, but not always the gum tissue itself. The patient may experience exposed roots and tooth sensitivity, as well as pockets of pus that form between the gums and teeth.
Untreated gum disease often leads to tooth loss, so pay attention to common signs. First, gums may bleed when you brush your teeth, or even throughout the day. They may also become swollen or red, and typically feel sensitive. Your teeth may feel loose or even shift. Finally, bad breath is a common symptom of gum disease.
Gum disease has a variety of causes. Luckily, patients have control over these causes. The most common, of course, is poor dental hygiene. The solution is twice-daily brushing, once-daily flossing, and twice-yearly dental cleanings.
Certain medical conditions also lead to gum disease, including kidney disease and diabetes. In addition, certain medications cause periodontal disease. Sometimes, this is due to them causing overgrown gums. Other times, it is because the medication inhibits saliva (dry mouth). Saliva keeps gums healthy by killing bacteria.
Patients who grind or clench their teeth are also susceptible to gum disease, as are people going through hormonal and/or metabolic changes, such as pregnant women, adolescents, and older people, especially women going through menopause.
Gum Disease Treatments
Treatment depends on the stage of your gum disease. It begins with your dentist removing plaque and tartar (calculus), and then proceeding to deep scaling and root planing, possibly under local anesthetic. Your dental provider may also apply an antibiotic and/or medicated mouthwash.
More advanced periodontal disease requires a more advanced treatment.
- Pocket elimination surgery: Your doctor may recommend surgery to save your teeth. Periodontal flap surgery reduces any gaps that form between teeth and gums. Another option is to reshape the bone to correct “craters” formed due to infection.
- Tissue regeneration: When gum disease destroys the underlying bone, you may require a bone graft to regenerate the tissue and promote new bone growth.
Not many dentists provide laser procedures, but it’s a popular option for patients who experience anxiety over dental treatments, as laser treatments are far less invasive than traditional methods.
The Benefits of Laser Dentistry
As technology advances and becomes more affordable, more dentists provide laser dentistry treatments thanks to the numerous benefits it offers.
It is far less invasive, with minimal damage to surrounding tissues and less bleeding thanks to the laser promoting clotting. Patients receiving treatment to soft tissues often do not require stitches. In addition, their wounds heal quicker and they experience fewer infections thanks to the laser’s sterilization properties.
Laser Dentistry Procedures
Dentists use lasers to detect cavities still in their early stages, when treatment is easier and damage is minimal. Lasers also help prepare teeth and complete dental fillings, often without need of a local anesthetic. The laser also kills bacteria within the cavity. In addition, dentists treat tooth sensitivity by sealing tubules on the root that cause sensitivity to heat and cold. Finally, dentists often use lasers as part of the whitening process.
Dental providers also use lasers to reshape gum tissues to lengthen the crown and create a better foundation for restorations. It may also simply improve the appearance of the patient’s smile, if he or she has a “gummy” smile. Dentists also use laser dentistry to treat the soft tissue issues that ill-fitting dentures cause.
Other laser dentistry applications do not directly affect tooth or gum health, but do relate to dental health. Doctors use lasers to treat:
- Benign tumors
- Cold sores
- Damaged nerves, blood vessels, and scars
- Sleep apnea
Although most people think of dental implants as tooth replacements, they actually replace the tooth root (topped by the tooth replacement). The implant provides a stable support for the prosthetic tooth, also stimulating the jawbone, preventing bone loss and even promoting new growth. This also improves overall appearance, as bone loss leads to sagging, prematurely aged features.
Dental Implant Procedure
Your dental provider conducts an examination to evaluate your needs and suitability for dental implants. This includes looking at bone density and loss, as well as an evaluation of your teeth and gums. Typically, the doctor takes x-rays and runs similar diagnostics to determine whether you require a bone and/or soft tissue graft.
This consultation is also when the dentist discusses your anesthesia options, the procedure, and before and after care.
Most dental implant procedures take place over the course of two appointments, although some cases require three or more. During the first appointment, your doctor creates an incision in the gum tissue. If you require a bone graft, he or she completes the graft. If not, your surgeon places the dental implant, attaching it to your jawbone. The procedure ends with the doctor closing the incision.
Most dental providers use titanium implants, as the material if biocompatible and incredibly strong. During the healing period (usually around 6 months), the implant integrates with the bone in a process known as osseointegration. This is necessary to ensure the implant has the stability and strength to support the prosthetic.
Follow your doctor’s instructions for recovery. These typically include rinsing with warm salt water five or six times each day and taking any prescribed medications. Ice packs help control both swelling and discomfort over the first day or two.
Once healing completes, you return to your provider to have the crown(s) placed. The doctor creates another incision over the treatment area and attaches the crown directly to the implant. He or she closes the incision and provides instructions for healing as well as for proper dental hygiene for the implants and crowns.
Whenever possible, dentists work to save a tooth. However, if damage is too extensive, your dentist may recommend a tooth extraction. There are two basic types of extractions: simple and surgical.
If you can still see the tooth, your dentist performs a simple extraction, typically using a local anesthetic. He or she first loosens the tooth with a tool called an elevator before removing it with forceps.
Surgical extraction is for a tooth broken at the gum line, or one that never fully erupted. It requires a small incision in the gum and possibly the removal of a small amount of surrounding bone. The dentist may also need to cut the tooth before extraction.
Before performing the surgical extraction, the dentist applies a local anesthetic. He or she may also use a general anesthetic or sedation, given through either injection or IV.
Preparing for Tooth Extraction
After a general examination, your dental provider takes an x-ray and asks a variety of medical history questions. Be sure to mention any prescriptions or over-the-counter medications or supplements you take, as many of these work as blood thinners.
If you have an infection, weakened immune system, certain medical conditions, or your doctor expects the procedure to be lengthy, he or she may prescribe an antibiotic for you to begin taking before the extraction.
For wisdom teeth extractions, the dentist typically takes a panoramic x-ray, which provides complete detail to help guide the procedure. Through a panoramic x-ray, your dentist studies:
- How your lower teeth relate to the inferior alveolar nerve in your jawbone
- How your upper teeth relate to your sinuses
- How your wisdom teeth relate to surrounding teeth
- Whether you present any bone disease, infection, or tumor
If your doctor schedules the extraction (in other words, not an emergency extraction), arrange for getting to and from the dental office, especially if you receive IV sedation or general anesthesia. Review your doctor’s preoperative instruction and follow them exactly. In the week before your extraction, if you experience a cold, cough, or stuffy nose, call your dentist. If you experience nausea and/or vomiting the night before your procedure, call your dentist’s office in the morning, as this may require a change in anesthesia.
The day of your procedure, do not eat or drink anything within eight hours of the extraction. In addition, do not smoke, as this significantly increases risk of dry socket, an extremely painful condition. Finally, wear either short sleeves or loose clothing to allow easy access for an IV.
After the Procedure
Your dentist provides detailed after-care instructions. You should also ask any questions you have before the procedure. It often helps to write your questions down ahead of time, to ensure you don’t forget anything. In addition, write down your doctor’s answers to your questions.
You should not experience any pain during the extraction. However, you likely will after the procedure. This is normal and manageable with over-the-counter medications, especially ibuprofen, which works as an anti-inflammatory. Follow your doctor’s recommendations as to dosage. Surgical extractions may require a prescription to manage pain. If pain is intense or does not dissipate after two to three days, call your dental provider.
In addition to ibuprofen, ice packs help reduce pain and swelling. Never use an ice pack for more than 20 minutes.
Your dentist will tell you when you may remove the gauze at the extraction site. Do not disturb the blood clot protecting the wound. After 24 hours, bleeding should cease. You may also begin the warm water/salt rinse (typically one cup of warm water to 1/2 teaspoon of salt). Perform a gentle rinse four to five times per day (or per your doctor’s instructions).
For the first 24 to 72 hours following your procedure, do not smoke, use a straw, or spit. When your doctor clears you to begin eating again, start with soft, cool foods for the first few days.
Finally, make sure to honor any follow-up appointments.
Tooth extraction is surgery, and every surgery comes with some amount of risk, especially when anesthesia is involved. The first is the possibility for infection. Your doctor guards against that with antibiotics (as needed) and making sure you’re healthy before surgery. Other risks include:
- Dry socket affects around 30 percent of people getting a tooth extraction, especially difficult extractions and in people who smoke or take birth control pills. Risk increases even more in patients who smoke the day of their procedure.
- A fractured jaw due to pressure on the jawbone; this is more common in older patients and those with osteoporosis.
- Nearby teeth may suffer damage.
- Permanent numbness to the jaw and/or chin is extremely rare and only occurs if the doctor damages the inferior alveolar nerve of the lower jaw.
- Your dentist may leave behind a root tip (typically, dentists remove the entire root in an extraction).
Dental sealants (commonly referred to as just sealants) cover the chewing surface of molars and premolars (permanent back teeth). Sealants help protect these teeth from decay that occurs because of fissures common to molars. Often smaller than a single toothbrush bristle, these tiny cracks are extremely difficult to clean, resulting in accumulated plaque, acids, and bacteria. Applying a sealant provides extra protection against cavities and tooth decay.
When and Where Are Sealants Placed?
Once permanent molars fully erupt, your dentist may apply a sealant on the chewing, or occlusal, surface of the tooth. This protects the chewing surface from common fractures and fissures while still leaving the majority of the tooth open to benefit from fluoride and regular brushing.
Patients’ molars continue to erupt through puberty and adolescence, typically ending by around age 13. The exception is the wisdom teeth, which may not erupt until the patient reaches his or her early twenties (and in some cases, the wisdom teeth never erupt). Once molars erupt past the gum, the dentist may apply sealant.
Sealant naturally erodes over time. Therefore, application must reoccur throughout the patient’s lifetime.
The Sealant Procedure
The sealant procedure begins with a regular teeth cleaning. Next, the dentist dries the teeth and applies a solution to aid bonding between the sealant and tooth. Then, the dentist applies the sealant in a thin layer, using a method similar to painting. The sealant is either clear or white, so it blends with the tooth. Finally, a curing light dries and hardens the sealant.
Your dentist needs to check the sealant every few years at least, to determine whether the patient requires a second (or third, fourth, etc.) coating.
After receiving a sealant, continue brushing and flossing as usual. If using mouthwash, choose an alcohol-free variety.
You may notice an uncomfortable feeling within the first two weeks of receiving a sealant procedure. Most patients acclimate to this feeling within a few days. If it has not improved after two weeks, return to your dentist. In addition, inform your dentist if you feel pain or significant discomfort.
How Long Do Sealants Last?
With proper care, dental sealants last for up to a decade. There is no need to remove sealants; they simply wear down over time. Typically, your dentist checks the health of your sealants during every cleaning or other visit. Once the sealant wears off, your dentist simply reapplies.
Avoiding certain behaviors, such as opening packages with your teeth and chewing ice, helps ensure the longevity of your sealants.
A custom-fitted mouth guard protects your teeth from damage during certain types of sport and recreational activities. Some patients in particular benefit from a mouth guard, such as those with fixed bridgework and braces. In addition to protecting your teeth, a mouth guard also protects soft tissues, such as the lips and cheeks, from sustaining damage from braces and brackets.
Ideally, a mouth guard stays in place while still allowing the wearer to breathe and speak comfortably. It fits well and has no odor or taste. Finally, the ideal mouth guard should be easy to clean and very resilient.
Who Needs to Wear a Mouth Guard?
Answering this question depends on whom you ask. The NCAA only requires a mouth guard for four sports: field hockey, football, ice hockey, and lacrosse. The American Dental Association (ADA) disagrees, recommending a mouth guard for 25 more sports. Essentially, the ADA feels that any player who risks contact with other players or hard surfaces should wear a mouth guard. This includes those engaging in basketball, soccer, acrobatics, weightlifting, and skateboarding.
Other Mouth Pieces
In addition to mouth guards, occlusal splints help protect patients’ teeth and dental restorations. Also known as bite planes and splints, night guards, and Michigan splints, these custom-fit to both upper and lower teeth.
Dentists recommend occlusal sprints for a variety of reasons. For example, they help treat headaches caused by jaw issues. They also work well for patients who grind or clench their teeth at night. Your dentist may also recommend a bite splint before performing certain dental procedures.
An anterior deprogrammer helps relax the jaw muscles, important for people who regularly clench their jaw and/or grind their teeth. Common examples include:
- Nociceptive Trigeminal Inhibitor (NTI): A clear plastic device that goes over the two top or bottom front teeth, worn at night to reduce headaches and symptoms of bruxism and TMJ.
- B splint: Typically worn during the day, over either upper or lower teeth, but may pair with another device to protect against changes in bite, worn at night.
- Kois appliance: Worn at night, it relieves headaches and muscle fatigue.
Although other mouth pieces have many uses, they do not take the place of a traditional mouth guard during sporting activities, as they do not have the same strength and resiliency.
The Three Types of Mouth Guards
There are three main types of mouth guard: stock, mouth-formed, and custom-fitted.
Patients purchase stock mouth guards from a drug or sporting goods store. These devices are made of rubber or polyvinyl and come out of the package ready to wear. They fit poorly, feel uncomfortable, and don’t do much to protect the wearer’s mouth. Breathing is difficult, as the wearer must keep his or her mouth closed in order to hold the mouth guard in place. Their main selling point is a low price tag.
Mouth-formed mouth guards come in two main flavors: shell liner and boil-and-bite. The shell liner comes with a gel or rubber that molds to the wearer’s teeth to help keep its shape. The boil-and-bite is what it sounds like: you boil the mouth guard and then place it in your mouth while the device is still soft and hot, biting down to fit the device to the contours of your mouth. They are available at drugstores, sporting good stores, and online, and the wearer may redo the boil-and-bite procedure to get a better fit.
The custom-fit mouth guard has the best fit and protection, as the dentist uses an impression of the patient’s teeth and then sends that to a lab to create the mouth guard.
Although the second option definitely works better than the first, it still doesn’t offer the same protections and comfort as a custom-fit mouth guard. Custom-fitted models typically withstand a year of regular use. Stock and boil-and-bite mouth guards last three months or so.
Mouth Guard Maintenance
Proper maintenance and use keeps your mouth guard, as well as your mouth, healthy.
- Before storing your mouth guard, wash it with cool water and soap and soak it in mouthwash.
- Before wearing your mouth guard, brush and floss your teeth.
- Do not leave your mouth guard in a vehicle or in direct sunlight, as heat may damage it.
- Never chew on your mouth guard unless you want to ruin its shape.
- Never share your mouth guard or wear someone else’s.
- Only allow your dentist to adjust your custom-fit mouth guard.
- Store your mouth guard in a ventilated, plastic storage box.
- Try to avoid bending your mouth guard.
If your mouth guard becomes contaminated, cease wearing it and contact your dentist immediately. Common symptoms that you’ve worn a contaminated mouth guard include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
Bring your mouth guard to your regular dental appointments so your dentist can check it.