Back when I started jiu-jitsu several years ago I noticed that people were divided on whether or not mouth guards were worth wearing during BJJ training. I investigated the efficacy of using mouthguards while grappling and decided to invest in one for myself. I want to share my research to help others make their personal decision on using a mouthguard during jiu-jitsu training.
BJJ athletes should wear a mouthguard while training jiu-jitsu or any other form of grappling. Wearing a mouthguard offers cost-effective protection from impacts that can cause injuries to the teeth, mouth, face, jaw, and neck.
Let’s go into some specifics about what I found in regards to mouth guards that helped me make my decision to use mouth guards whenever I train jiu-jitsu.
What Does a Mouth Guard Protect You From During BJJ?
Mouthguards absorb force from both steady pressure and accidental impacts that happen during BJJ training. This significantly reduces injury risk, especially around the mouth, face, neck, and jaw. Mouthguards are effective in reducing the chances of expensive dental damage.
In fact, wearing mouth guards is becoming mandatory in many other sports and martial arts where there is a risk of impact.
The medical community agrees that mouthguards play a pivotal role in protecting your teeth from trauma through force dispersal. Check out this article from the Cleveland Clinic for some basics on the topic.
Below is a list of injuries that are less likely to occur if you wear a mouthguard.
- Tooth Injuries – Teeth can easily be chipped, knocked out, or moved out of position if sufficiently impacted. This can easily happen during grappling and I have personal experience with chipping a tooth from receiving simple shoulder pressure before I started wearing my mouthguard. In my case, the chip was simply smoothed out and left there since it was minor, however, if a more significant dental injury occurs you could be out hundreds or thousands of dollars depending on the severity
- Tongue Injuries – Biting your tongue is no joke, it can be very painful and take a long time to heal. If the injury requires stitching you may be out several hundred dollars. Using a mouthguard makes it far more likely that you bruise instead of cut your tongue if you get caught in something with your tongue between your teeth for any reason.
- Soft Tissue Injuries – Injuries to the soft tissue inside the mouth ranging from the lips to the inside of your cheeks as well as abrasions around the outside of the mouth can be reduced if you use a mouthguard. Softening the force transfer between the teeth and the soft tissues reduces the severity of cuts and abrasions or eliminates them altogether.
- Jaw and Neck Injuries – Jaws and necks often end up absorbing a lot of force and pressure during jiu-jitsu. Having a mouthguard allows some of the force to be absorbed into the mouthguard and reduces the probability of your jaw or neck stress fracturing or breaking under heavy force.
These injuries are easy to mitigate with the inclusion of a simple mouthguard in training, but you can make a choice to train without a mouthguard and never run into any issues. I know people who have trained for years with no significant oral injuries.
Does Using a Mouth Guard Come With Any Risks?
Using a mouthguard does carry some minor infection risks that should be accounted for when making your decision. This risk also changes depending on what type of mouthguard you decide to use and if you are using proper mouthguard hygiene.
Mouthguards can lead to infection if they are not properly fitted, or if they are damaged or dirty.
- Improper fit on mouthguard – When wearing a mouthguard that is not properly fitted, more friction is possible during normal use while grappling. This leads to increased friction and irritation which can lead to increased infection rates. This is especially true if the skin on the gums or inside the mouth is broken into an open sore for any reason.
- Damaged mouthguard – If the mouthguard is damaged and has protrusions or holes in it there is an increased chance to irritate or cut the inside of your mouth through normal use which can also lead to an increased chance of infection.
- Improper mouthguard hygiene – Clean your mouthguard! Our mouths have a lot of germs that can accumulate on your mouthguard. Think about cleaning your mouthguard the same way you would toothbrushing. It’s a part of your mandatory hygiene routine. To clean your mouthguard just rinse it in mouthwash. Don’t brush it or use anything abrasive or germs can accumulate in the scratches.
By obtaining a mouthguard that is well-fitted and keeping it clean and in good repair you can virtually eliminate the additional risk of infection from mouthguard use.
What Type of Mouth Guard Should I Use for BJJ?
There are 3 main types of mouthguards that are commonly seen around the jiu-jitsu mats: stock mouthguards, mouth-formed mouthguards, and custom mouthguards. Let’s go over these common types to help inform your decision on what type of mouthguard to use you might want to use.
- Stock Mouthguard – Stock mouthguards are cheap and available at all sporting goods. They offer the least protection and are the least likely to fit your teeth perfectly. They have a higher risk of irritation in your mouth and in my personal experience are quite challenging to talk in which may play a factor in your decision.
- Boil and Bite Mouth-Formed Mouthguards – These mouthguards are a compromise between a stock mouthguard and a custom mouthguard. Typically you would boil the mouthguard and gently bite it down to form it around your teeth. These guards will stay on your teeth without your mouth being closed so it is possible to talk while wearing this style of mouthguard. I personally use this type of mouthguard.
- Custom Mouthguards – If you need to maximize the protection of your mouth and face it might be worth getting your mouthguard professionally done at a dentist. They will ensure that you have sufficient thickness in all areas and will protect all of your teeth. This is also important if you have a history of concussions as it will help to absorb some force in the case of incidental violent contact. If you have braces this might also be your best option to prevent popped brackets and lacerations.
Putting in any kind of mouthguard will provide some sort of protective benefits so make your own decision on your needs and try to select a mouthguard that will suit your personal evaluation of risk.
I personally keep it simple and use a lightweight boil and bite mouthguard like this one that I found on Amazon for a surprisingly low cost for daily training in jiu-jitsu.
Will Having a Mouth Guard Affect My Breathing While Grappling?
Most mouthguards do not substantially change your breathing while grappling. However, any mouthguard designed to cover both your upper and lower teeth will require a longer adjustment period since they are bulkier and require you to keep your mouth closed.
How Often Should I Replace My Mouth Guard?
Depending on the type of mouthguard you select it can last anywhere from a few months for basic mouth-formed mouthguards made with pliable plastic to over 5 years for a custom mouthguard that has been professionally made and meticulously maintained.
As soon as your mouthguard has deformed or weakened you need to replace it since as the protection provided by the mouthguard will be lowered as the material thins or the mouthguard loses its structure.
In my experience, it has been relatively painless to integrate the use of a mouthguard into my BJJ training routine. I bought my boiled mouth-formed mouthguard for less than $20 and since then have not chipped a tooth or suffered any form of mouth-related injury in the 3 years that followed.
There are pros and cons to the use of a mouthguard while on the mats but in my opinion, the added protective benefits far outweigh the downsides that using this simple bit of gear may bring.
If you want to know more about good safety gear practices for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu check out my posts on the use of athletic cups and shoes to learn more.