Why Do NBA Players Wear Mouthguards?

Over the years, mouthguards have definitely risen to never seen before popularity levels in the basketball world.

But have you wondered why NBA players wear those things while playing basketball?

Why does basketball require players to wear mouthguards?

Why does basketball require players to wear mouthguards?

Back in the day, mouthguards were a piece of sports accessories that were usually just seen being worn by people who played football, boxing, rugby, and other extreme contact sports.

Boxing is actually the first sport that started the use of mouthguards, and that too, as early as the 1890s!

However, over the years, mouthguards have grown impressively popular in basketball too. Especially the National Basketball Association.

This is definitely a major shift from the belief that since basketball is a low contact sport, then basketball players acquire no such need to wear mouthguards. And all for good reasons.

Similarly, a large fraction of the NBA players have also taken up this route and made it clear that whatever the traditional belief may be, mouthguards are a necessity when it comes to saving yourself from getting elbowed in the face and breaking some teeth.

Even if basketball is not technically a high contact sport, the aggressive nature of the game, as well as the high speed of the game makes player contact more frequent, which means that it is a lot more common to get injured than we can imagine. Basketball is actually the number one sport that can cause maxillofacial injuries.

The first and foremost, and perhaps the most important reason behind wearing a mouthguard is to protect the player’s mouth from getting injured. It helps to safeguard the teeth, lips, tongue, and the gums. We all are well aware of the fact that it is extremely common for players to end up in the emergency room just because they got knocked down onto the hard floor face-down, or got elbowed into the mouth, or also ended up in an on-court fight for a rebound with an opponent player.

Mouthguards are literally lifesavers. And we are not kidding. Not even an overstatement. That is exactly what they do. Save lives.

They can actually shield the player from severe concussions that happen as a result of an injury taken at the jaw, and also reduce the harshness of one.

What’s more is that mouthguards can also be used for purposes different than just protection from injury. They can take the role of oral medicine and help to control medical conditions such as bruxism, also known as the excessive grinding of the teeth and jaw clenching.

Where did it all start?

There is always someone who is the one to start a certain trend. Even though traditionally, it is still not extremely common for players to wear mouthguards, the trend of wearing mouthguards sprouted up right back in the 1950s when the UCLA player Dick Perry wore a mouthguard crafted by a doctor in Los Angeles, Rodney O. Lilyquist. This was the first declared instance when a mouthguard was worn by a basketball player during a game.

At that time, mouthguards were upgraded from the unpleasantly thick kind that boxers used to acrylic resin ones which were more wearable and could be more easily used as well. That day, and we have not looked back. New technologies and materials are introduced every now and then that make wearing mouthguards as comfortable as a breeze.

What goes into making a mouthguard?

Generally speaking, mouthguards are premade in various sizes, shapes, and even colors. However, if someone wants, then a customized mouthguard can also be created for them. Obviously, custom made pieces are a lot more comfortable than pre made ones.

Nevertheless, the material that makes mouthguards now is mostly the same kind. And this is ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) along with thermoplastic material. As time has passed, the ratio of the thermoplastic material in making a mouthguard has significantly increased because it boosts up the degree of protection that a mouthguard has to offer.

There is a list of ways in which customized mouthguards are made, meaning that there are a couple types of mouthguards available in the market for you to buy.

What are the different types of mouthguards?

If we talk categorically, there are two general types of mouthguards available for use, which are then subdivided into various types. The first kind is the one used to protect oneself from the trauma of injury and of course athletic purposes are also covered under these. The second type is the one that is used by patients that are suffering oral conditions such as bruxism aka teeth grinding.

It goes without saying that all the different kinds have their distinct purposes and feel to them. So mouthguards have to be picked according to the purpose that you want your piece to serve.

The subcategories of mouthguards are as follows:

  1. Custom-made to your liking:

Top tier stuff, literally. The best, the most comfortable, and the most protective kind out there.

For this kind of a mouthguard, you have to make way to your dentist, and they will use a mold of your teeth to create a mouthguard that fits your teeth perfectly and is exclusively for you. Of course, these are a lot more expensive to make as compared to the ore made ones, but they have the biggest advantage which is that they can perfectly fit your teeth and not cause any unnecessary discomfort. Plus, they are quite durable and long lasting so you consider it a one time investment. Such a mouthguard can be made no matter what the purpose. As oral medication or for protection against injury, they can be made accordingly to fit your purpose aptly.

  1. The boil and bite kind:

This kind of a mouthguard requires you to step in and do it yourself! Basically a thermoplastic material that you can easily fit to your teeth size and shape in the comfort of your home.

The thermoplastic material is placed in hot (not boiling) water and allowed to soften. When it softens up, you take it, put it into your mouth and press on it against your teeth so it can take their shape. When you feel like the ‘template’ is in the perfect position for you, you have to bite down on it for about 20 seconds or so. The step that follows is to take the template out and run cold water over it so it hardens, and ta-da, ready to use!

The best part about this kind is that there is a lot of room for error. If you feel like you have not been able to get it right in the first try, you can go back, soften it up, and repeat the whole process again until you get the perfect fit.

And the second benefit is that since we are in a global pandemic and going to the doctor’s is not really up on our agendas right now, so with a boil and bite mouthguard, at least you will not be bound to go to the dentist if you are in the dire need of a mouthguard.

  1. Stock mouthguards:

Stock mouthguards are the premade type of mouthguards that we were talking about earlier. They are sort of a one size fits all type scheme, and while being extremely bulky and ill fitting, they also do not let you breathe properly, and of course, provide the least amount of protection out of all. Bummers. Total bummers.

  1. Adjustable nightguards:

The cheap, readily-available and temporary kind available. Not suitable for athletic purposes, can only be used during the night to prevent teeth grinding. This type includes sliding pieces that just fit in between your teeth and do their thing.

Is it mandatory for NBA players to wear mouthguards?

Even though it may look and sound like wearing a mouthguard must be a rule put forward by the NBA, considering the fact that it is classified a protection gear, yet it is not compulsory for the players to wear them at all.

Nevertheless, a lot of players still prefer to wear them as the awareness regarding their benefits increases day by day. Some notable NBA stars who choose to wear mouthguards while playing are Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and LeBron James.  

Regardless of the fact that it is the player’s choice if they want to go with wearing  a mouthguard or not, it still stands true that not wearing one can lead to a chipped tooth or two, a dislocated jaw, soft tissue damage to lips, tongue and inner cheeks, nerve damage to a tooth, and an overall higher risk of concussions.

The life of mouthguards

It all depends on you and your usage when it comes to the life of mouthguards. The more frequently that you use your mouthguard, and the more wear and tear that it goes through, obviously the less time it will live. However, generally, custom made mouthguards are believed to last for several years before you will have to swap them out for new ones. But then again, this too varies from person to person.

Something that you have to do is to take your mouthguard with you whenever you visit the dentist and get it checked for any cracks and stuff.

On the other hand, the rest of the kinds of mouthguards are not as durable and long-lasting as customized ones are. So you will have to change them every couple of months. Another thing that you may want to know is that teens and children need to change their mouthguards more often because obviously, their jaws grow and the same mouthguard cannot fit them for a long time.

In general, nonetheless, it is still extremely important to change them every once in a while even if they have not been very damaged because bacteria can seattle and grow on them really easily and reusing again and again may have a negative effect on your oral health.

How can a mouthguard be cleaned?

It is extremely important to keep your mouthguard clean as its cleanliness can actually elongate its life. And we cannot stress this enough.

Never, answer repeat, never in a million years think that you will get the job done by just running them under plain water.

Clean your mouthguard by brushing it with toothpaste and then rinsing it with soapy water. If you choose to immerse it in a cup of mouthwash, then even better because mouthwash ensures that all the bacteria and debris is washed off the mouthguard.

Closing thoughts

Mouthguards are basically revolutionary. Whether used to protect oneself from the trauma of an athletic injury, or as the medication for oral conditions like bruxism, they seem to be doing their jobs way more perfectly now than ever.

And a lot of this perfection is contributed to the new technologies, materials, and methods that have been adopted for the manufacturing of mouthguards.

All of which have transformed mouthguards from a sticky, unpleasant product used by boxers, to comfortable ones that ensure full protection from even the worst of dental injuries.

So the next time someone argues with you about the importance of mouthguards for playing sports, you will have enough comebacks to throw back at them.

Because let’s be honest, mouthguards save lives. And whatever saves lives is basically freaking amazing.