There is nothing bold or dashing about failing to protect your teeth. To the contrary, losing a tooth is simply unattractive and uncool. Tooth loss or other mouth injuries that can be prevented with a mouthguard can be painful, expensive to fix, result in lost time from work and physical activity and even cause permanent facial disfigurement. Mouthguards have been studied in different military and sports settings and proven to substantially reduce the risk of these injuries.

For this reason, Army regulation 600-63 requires personnel to use mouthguards for military training activities that have been shown to have a high risk of mouth or facial injuries. These activities include obstacle and confidence courses training, one-on-one combatives training, rifle and bayonet training and pugil stick training.

In addition to these military-specific activities known to have a high potential to result in injuries to the face or mouth, the American Dental Association and International Academy of Sports Dentistry identified 29 sports and exercise activities for which they highly recommend mouthguards be worn. These include several sports that are popular among military members - football, basketball, martial arts, wrestling, soccer, skiing, extreme sports, volleyball, racquetball, softball, skateboarding, lacrosse, rugby and equestrian events.

If you participate in any of these sports, you can look smarter by using a mouthguard to protect your "pearly whites." Think of the professional athletes that recognize this simple form of protection!

While all mouthguards offer protection, some offer more than others. Factors such as comfort, cost and how frequently you will need to wear it, should also be considered when deciding which to use. The following are three types of mouthguards commonly used in sports and recreational activities.

1. Custom-made mouthguards are an impression of the individual's mouth crafted by a dentist. The guard is made from high quality materials to ensure fit and that it stays in place. They are the most expensive and must be obtained through a dentist's office. Custom-made mouthguards provide the highest level of comfort and fit and offers the best level of protection.

2. Boil and bite mouthguards are less expensive and widely available in sporting goods stores. This mouthguard is made from thermoplastic material, so the wearer can soften it in hot water, and then insert the tray into the mouth after cooling. The tray is molded and shaped to the wearer's bite by using fingers, lips and tongue. It is not as good as a custom made mouthguard, but provides the next best level of protection. There are problems associated with this mouthguard such as it may not stay in place inside the mouth and inhibit speaking when worn.

3. Stock mouthguards are preformed and "ready-to-wear." They are the least expensive and widely available in sporting goods stores. However, this mouthguard may inhibit breathing or speaking when worn, little can be done to adjust it and sizes are limited - typically small to large. It offers the least protection of all three mouthguards.

Use these criteria to guide your selection of a mouthguard. Once you have your mouthguard, routinely clean, inspect it and replace when necessary. Do this so you can continue to look good while working and playing hard!

For more information, contact the Army Public Health Center (Provisional) Injury Prevention Program at usarmy.apg.medcom-phc.mbx.injuryprevention@mail.mil.