You know those annoying $5 mouth guards you had to wear during lacrosse or field hockey practice? It turns out that apart from making sure you didn’t lose a tooth, they may have given you an athletic boost.
The research is still in its early stages, but recent studies have confirmed that wearing a mouth guard during exercise can help increase muscular endurance, prevent muscle cramping, and reduce buildup of the stress hormone cortisol.
“The whole thought process is that by wearing a mouth guard, patients are not clenching down as much,” explains Dr. Nicholas Toscano, a periodontist based in New York and an expert on mouth guard use. “When people work out, they tend to clench and grind their teeth. Those muscles, just like any other, will fatigue and build up lactic acids in the muscles and deplete oxygen.”
The mouth guard prevents teeth clenching and opens up the airways, allowing professional and everyday athletes alike to breath easier during a workout.
The idea of mouth guards boosting athletic performance is not entirely new, even though it’s still not that widely spread. In 2009, USA Today reported on the mouth guard debate, citing former Redskins-turned-Cowboys football player Derrick Dockery as a neuromuscular mouthguard user. He noted feeling more energized and breathing more easily while wearing a custom-made mouth guard.
“The hardest part is to distinguish if it’s psychological,” Dockery told USA Today. “Is it? [ . . . ] I got more winded the games I didn’t have it compared to the games I did have it.”
As more professional athletes jump on the mouth guard bandwagon, sports manufacturers, including Under Armour and Makkar Pure Power, have developed performance mouthpieces, which mold to one’s teeth and are designed a bit differently than normal mouth guards. Toscano says fitted mouth guards can cost $500 or more and in the long run provide more health benefits than your regular drugstore purchase.
Toscano, who spent 13 years in the United States Navy, says he treated many Navy SEALs with mouthguards. “Those guys put themselves through physical endurance, jumping out of airplanes and such. They put a lot of stress and frustration on their teeth,” he says. After he fitted them with mouth guards, Toscano says, the SEALs reported reduced muscle fatigue and pain as well as improved overall performance.
However, he reiterates that the science behind performance mouth guards is still in its early stages, so for new users and athletes he recommends starting out with normal mouth guards before shelling out a few hundred dollars for a custom-made version. But he cautions that long-term use of drugstore-bought mouth guards, “can change [one’s] bite and position, leading to serious problems down the road.”
Besides wearing a mouth guard during high-contact sports such as boxing or football, Toscano recommends wearing one during weight training, or really any physical training that requires a lot of endurance. “A performance guard will help push [athletes] in their training because they don’t fatigue as fast,” he says.
One of his favorite performance mouth guards? Under Armour’s Armourbite mouthpiece.