Athletic mouthguards or mouthpieces are critical pieces of equipment in contact
sports like football, hockey, and boxing. The American Dental Association
recommends them for all contact sports. But despite the fact that mouthguards
are important protective equipment in these sports, athletes often pay little
attention to their care and sanitation. A new study published in the May-June
2011 edition of Sports Health sheds light on the microorganisms that can
contaminate protective mouthguards.
Richard T. Glass, PhD, DDS et al. divided 62 Division I football players into
four groups and then performed microbial analysis on the mouthguards of players
in those groups. Group A practiced but did not compete in games, while group B
practiced and competed in games. Players in groups A and B wore their
mouthguards all season. Group C players wore mouthguards for practices and games
but switched them at midseason. Group D players wore their mouthguards for
practices and games and switched them at midseason but placed them in sanitizing
solution after each practice or game until the next opportunity to wear them.
The authors found that the mouthguards became very contaminated with use. 81
mouthguards grew out 485 microbial isolates. Changing the mouthguards midseason
helped but not significantly. However, soaking the mouthguards in a sanitizing
solution did decrease the numbers of bacteria, yeast, and mold isolates
Two other factors can potentially increase the danger from this bacterial
contamination. First, athletes, especially football players, often remove the
mouthguards between plays and place them on their facemasks or hang them from
helmets. Holding them outside of the mouth could increase the chance of
contamination from contact with the environment.
Second, over time mouthguards wear out. They can develop jagged edges, which can
cause injury to the mucosal lining of the mouth. The back of the mouthguard lies
near a system of veins that could potentially help bacteria spread throughout
the body. The bacteria isolated from the mouthguards in this study could spread,
leading to pneumonia, endocarditis, pericarditis, meningitis, and other serious
In summary, athletes who wear protective mouthguards should keep the following
recommendations in mind to keep their mouthguards in good condition and as free
of contamination as possible:
Soak the mouthguards in an anti-microbial solution after practice or games until
the following session and gently brush them with a toothbrush periodically.
Avoid hanging the mouthguard on helmets, facemasks, or other dirty surfaces
Inspect the mouthguards regularly for cracks, jagged edges, and general wear.
Replace the mouthguard when damage or wear develops.
Do you have other ideas for cleaning or storing mouthguards? Go to
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