American football can be a rough sport, which is why having the right protective equipment is crucial for athletes of every level and age. Whatever you’re doing—whether blocking to protect your quarterback or tackling to gain possession of the ball—you need to keep your mouth guarded at all times so that a rogue elbow or knee doesn’t land you in the dentist’s chair.
We wanted to take some time to put the spotlight on mouthguards in football and explore what you can do to keep your mouth safe at all times:
Why Should American Football Players Wear Mouthguards?
Although the original “gum shield” was invented in 1890, it wasn’t until the late 1940s that mouthguards began gaining traction among football players in the US.
This proved to be a turning point. Until the 1950s, over 50% of injuries in American football involved players’ teeth. Today, with mouthguards being widely accepted and mandated by most major sports associations, rates of dental injuries among football players have dropped to less than 3%.
In short, mouthguards really make a difference.
Player Spotlight: Jerry Rice
For many fans and commentators alike, Jerry Rice stands out as football’s greatest ever wide receiver. He holds a slew of records—most consecutive games with a reception, most career pass receptions, most career passing yards gained, and most career touchdowns just to list a few—racked up over an impressive 20 season career.
But there’s something else outstanding about Jerry Rice: his smile.
“Football can be brutal—injuries, including those to the face and mouth, are a common risk for any player,” Rice said during an interview with Dear Doctor.
Fortunately, Rice was lucky. He didn’t suffer from any major dental traumas, only a few chipped teeth that could be fixed with caps. By wearing proper protective equipment like mouthguards and seeing the dentist regularly, something he hadn’t done as often when he was younger, Jerry Rice can look back at his impressive career with a big, bright smile.
Are Mouthguards Required in American Football?
The answer depends on where you play. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), for example, has very clear rules surrounding the use of mouthguards. In its handbook of rules and regulations, it lists a mouthpiece (“an intra-oral device of any readily visible colour”) as a mandatory item of equipment alongside helmets, thigh guards, and hip, knee, and shoulder pads. The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSH) also requires that mouthguards be used in American football, and the American Dental Association (ADA) continues to advocate for their widespread use in all sports.
Even if your team’s rules don’t require you to wear a mouthguard during play, you can still take your safety into your own hands (or mouth) by choosing to use a mouthguard. Remember, dental and orofacial injuries don’t affect star players alone. They can happen to anyone, which is why you must always keep yourself protected by wearing a mouthguard.
How Do Mouthguards Keep Players Safe?
Think of a mouthguard as a shock absorber for your mouth and teeth.
When you get hit in the face during a game, that blow sends shockwaves rippling through your teeth, jaw, and skull. Without a mouthguard, there’s nothing in place to block or minimize the intensity of the blow. Mouthguards are engineered to capture that energy, diffuse it as they contract, and disperse it as they expand again.
How Do I Find the Right Mouthguard?
- Breathing and Speech: A properly fitted mouthguard won’t make it difficult for you to breathe or speak.
- Security: If you can easily loosen your mouthguard with your tongue or need to clench your teeth to make sure your mouthguard stays in place, it’s not the right fit for you. You’ll find yourself adjusting it constantly unless it sits tightly against the upper teeth.
- Comfort: Your mouthguard shouldn’t make you gag. If it does, it’s probably sitting too much on your soft palate (the back of the roof of your mouth). Ideally your mouthguard should end somewhere between your first and second molars.
If you have braces, don’t forget that you still need to wear a braces-compatible mouthguard in order to protect both your mouth and the braces themselves.
Fitting Your Mouthguard
If you’re using a mouth-adapted mouthguard, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to achieve a proper fit. Always follow the rules for your specific product. The general principles are the same for BOIL & BITE™ styles (they need to be boiled, shaped, and cooled), but the details like how long you need to immerse them in boiling water vary.
Downloadable fitting instructions (PDFs) for all Makura mouthguards are available on our website in five languages: English, Español, Français, Deutsch, and Italiano. Click here to access them.
Ultimately the key to keeping your mouth protected while playing sports (American football included) is to ensure you’re wearing a high-quality, properly fitted mouthguard.
At Makura Sport, our mission is simple: to provide you with mouthguards that exceed expectations and make us the protection of choice for athletes around the world. Contact us today to learn more!
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