Why Do We Need a Mouthguard in Jiu Jitsu?
Updated: Apr 18, 2020
While practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, we can meet people who use mouthguards and others who don’t. At the outset of this article, I would like to state that it is the recommendation of this article to train regularly with a mouthguard from start to end of a training session (and not just during sparring).
Many practitioners don’t like mouthguards. We have to hold it in our mouths, it’s uncomfortable, it disturbs breathing (especially while hard rolling), we sound funny when we talk, and it’s annoying to take it out to drink water. The fact is that if you choose not to use mouthguard, months, even years will go by without anything bad happening. So, naturally you might think that there is no real need for mouthguard. However, there is a chance that there may come a time when you will have an accident and regret not having a mouthguard. So, like any kind of insurance, a mouthguard is designed to give you peace of mind that if something happens - you are safe. Most of us will roll even if we don’t have mouthguard with us. But normally, it is highly advisable not to forget the mouthguard and to practice with mouthguard at all times. The chance of getting a knee, elbow, or head-butt to your teeth or chin is something that simply should not be ignored.
There are many types of sports where mouthguards are part of the mandatory equipment. Jiu Jitsu should be one of them. To most of us, a mouthguard means simply a guard to the teeth. But actually, mouthguard not only protects the teeth but also the lips, gums, cheeks, and tongue. There are also people who strongly argue that keeping the jaw in place by biting into the mouthguard also prevents neck injuries.
Oral and jaw injuries such as broken, cracked or uprooted teeth, fractures or cracks in the jawbone or joint, are painful and often (especially when involving teeth) require lifelong treatment. Boxers wear a mouthguard at all times because the impact from punches can be transmitted through the teeth and jaw joint which can be transmitted to the brain and cause shock and concussion. This process might also happen in Jiu Jitsu caused by accidental hit. Of course, all of these damages may occur despite the use of a mouthguard but the use of the protector will surely minimize the severity of the injury.
One might be surprised to find out that you don’t have to take a big blow to the teeth or chin to suffer serious damage. All sorts of reasons can cause undesirable injuries. Even grinding your teeth can chip a tooth or completely break it. Also, going too hard on the face or jaw might cause severe damage. For example, pressure caused by the head of your training partner while passing guard or choke that does not sit well on the neck and lands on the mouth area.
Who Must Use a Mouthguard?
It is recommended to use a mouthguard the entire time you are training if your teeth are not straight, or you have protruding teeth.
Mouthguards also protect our training partners. We have all seen cases where teeth accidentally cut training partners. Wearing mouthguards should be considered fair and friendly towards our training partners. In this matter, we must remember that braces must be covered with a mouthguard while rolling. Those who participate in wrestling have no obligation to use mouthguards, but wrestlers with braces are not allowed to compete without one. That should be the case in Jiu Jitsu as well.
Tip: Many trainers say that a mouthguard makes them gag uncontrollably and they avoid using it. Some experts claim that Jiu Jitsu practitioners can settle for a mouthguard that does not cover the molars. They argue that cutting the tails of the mouthguard can prevent the gag reflex and still provide adequate protection for Jiu Jitsu. If this is the reason you are not using mouthguard – try this trick out.
What is a “Good” Mouthguard?
A good mouthguard is a protector that fits your teeth like a glove. You don't have to bite on it to hold it in place and it doesn't put pressure on your teeth or gums. A good mouthguard should allow for easy breathing. If this is your first time with mouthguard, you usually have to get used to breathing with it for a few training sessions as it is always easier to breathe without a mouthguard, especially during intensive exertion. If after three or four training sessions, you still find breathing with mouthguard very difficult, we recommend trying a different kind of mouthguard (or give your current mouthguard second chance and re-adjust it).
Usually, it is uncomfortable to talk with mouthguard and the speech sounds funny and inarticulate. Unfortunately, there is not a way to fix this and we just need to get used to it. Of course, drinking with a mouthguard is not a good idea, unless you don’t care about drooling and looking uncool in general. Those who think that it's important to be able to talk and drink with a mouthguard should try a thinner mouthguard.
Types of Mouthguards
There are two main types of mouthguards. The most common type in Jiu Jitsu and other martial arts is a mouthguard that is put on the upper set of teeth. This kind of mouthguard is the easiest one to breath with. In sports such as football, rugby, and other high impact sports, there is a second kind of mouthguard designed to cover both upper and lower sets of teeth. These usually have a hole in the middle that allows for breathing, which, naturally, is very limited. It is rare to see Jiu Jitsu players using this type of mouthguard. There is also a type of double-sided mouthguard that also includes outer extent that protects the lips. Again, it is rare to see it on Jiu Jitsu mats but sometimes, especially if there are sores on the lips, you can see players use this mouthguard so as not to lose any training.
There are special cases where mouthguards are required to fit both the upper and lower teeth. For example, in cases where there are braces or expensive dental work to protect. In these instances, there is no choice but to cover both upper and lower sets of teeth. We recommend contacting a dentist that will help fit a proper mouthguard. Just be aware, this type of mouthguard will be more expensive than others.
Options for Obtaining a Mouthguard
Non-Adjustable Plastic Mouthguards
Not worth mentioning. It’s impossible to mold these plastic mouthguards. It is doubtful if this kind of mouthguards provide any protection. The trainer has to hold the mouthguard in place using a decent bite so it won’t fall off. Buying those mouthguards is simply money down the drain.
There is a wide range of mouthguards, usually from silicon, that are fairly inexpensive in almost any sporting goods store. These mouthguards are fitted to the mouth structure. The mouthguard should be heated (usually in boiling water) then it is rinsed with some cold water to cool it down before inserting it to the mouth while it is still soft. The practitioner will gently bite it and suck it against the teeth while using fingers to squeeze the mouthguard against the gums and teeth for complete adjustment. The emphasis should not only be on the upper teeth, but also on the fit of the tops of the lower teeth. It makes a big difference in terms of comfort. This process is usually repeated several times before satisfactory result is achieved. If this is your first-time molding a mouthguard, we recommend you buy two mouthguards, possibly the simpler and cheaper kind, because you might not be successful at the first try (hint: don't over boil it and don't bite the soft mouthguard too hard or it will tear).
In most cases, mouthguards can be found in child and adult sizes. If you bought an adult size mouthguard you may have to cut its edges to fit to your upper jaw size.
There are also more "sophisticated" mouthguards that consist of a combination of hard plastic and silicone or rubber. Experience will teach you which mouthguard will suit you best in terms of comfort and protection.
There are customizable mouthguards that can be purchased at any drug store. There are Jiu Jitsu practitioners who swear that those mouthguards are more comfortable than those found at sporting goods stores. You might want to give it a try.
A dentist can prepare a custom mouthguard that will fit your mouth, teeth, and gums. Dentists usually prepare such mouthguards for people who grind their teeth while sleeping (bruxism). This process adjusts the mouthguard as accurately as possible to your teeth and jaw structure, including the soft tissues and the parts behind the teeth. Another advantage, is that dentists can determine the thickness of the mouthguard. If you are into MMA and take punches to the jaw and teeth regularly, you probably want a thicker mouthguard. If you only do Jiu Jitsu then you can settle with a much thinner and more comfortable mouthguard.
If you like to express yourself, there are some dentist that allow you to print just about anything you want on the finished mouthguard. It's definitely quite nice to go to a competition with your club’s logo printed on your mouthguard.
Mouthguards often tend to get lost. This is mainly because at the end of the training we take out the mouthguard out to socialize with other practitioners. Many times, we forget where we put our mouthguards, or we place the mouthguard inside the gi top and forget about it. When we take off the gi our mouthguard disappears. It is advisable to set some routine after class to put your mouthguard in some safe place or in your bag, especially if it is an expensive mouthguard.
A mouthguard should be cleaned thoroughly with cold water and soap at the end of each workout. The reason for cold water is that many mouthguards are made of delicate materials and hot water can cause them to soften and lose their shape. Rinse the mouthguard gently with your hands – do not use tools such as a toothbrush or a sponge, because over time this can wipe out your bite marks. It is also advisable to air-dry your mouthguard before storing it for your next class.
Be sure to place the mouthguard in a hard container and store it in a dry, cool place. Leaving a mouthguard in a car on a hot day can cause the mouthguard to soften and lose its shape if not stores in a hard container.
From time to time check that your mouthguard is working properly. Ensure there are no tears or sharp edges that may injure you during use.
If you have a custom fitted mouthguard adjusted for you by a dentist, bring the mouthguard with you to your dental exams so the dentist can check it and ensure it still fits.
We heard some trainers who swear that biting down on the mouthguard helps them better resisting choke attempts. Most of us do it unconsciously. One can imagine that mouthguards sustain a lot of wear. A good mouthguard can last for years. But in a period of two to three years there might be some material fatigue and the mouthguard might not retain enough elasticity and provide the required level of protection. You should change your mouthguard once every two to three years. Needless to say, if the mouthguard is torn, changed color, or started to smell bad, it should be replaced immediately.
Stay safe and keep rolling.