If you wear a mouth guard due to participation in a contact sport or other activity, then you should take the time and effort to properly care for it. Poorly-cleaned and non-maintained mouth guards can make you sick. Below is what you should understand about the importance of keeping your mouth guard clean and a few best practices that you should follow to protect your health. Talk with a dentist if you have specific questions about keeping your mouth (and mouth guard) clean.
Why practice proper sanitary care?
There are over 600 known species of bacteria that regularly inhabit the mouths of humans, not to mention numerous viruses, protozoa and other single-celled organisms. Some of these minute creatures are the cause of not only tooth decay and gum disease but also other illnesses such as gastrointestinal infections and respiratory illness.
The presence of these microorganisms is why you should make keeping your mouth guard clean a priority. By doing so, you will protect yourself and others from becoming ill.
Clean and sterilize your mouth guard daily
Whenever you are finished wearing your mouth guard for the day, take a few minutes to wash it thoroughly. Hold it under cool running water for several minutes to rinse off any loose particles of food or other debris, then use a soft-bristled toothbrush to gently scrub the guard. If you wish, you can use a solution of lukewarm water and mild liquid dish washing soap for additional cleaning, but never use hot water, as it might warp or deform your guard. In addition, do not use bleach on your mouth guard or any other harsh solvents. Finish the cleaning by rinsing it under running water for at least 30 seconds.
After you have cleaned your mouth guard, it will still need to be sterilized to kill any remaining microorganisms. Fill a small glass or plastic container with an alcohol-based mouthwash and soak your mouth guard at least one hour; you can leave it in the mouthwash overnight, if you wish, but remove it from the mouthwash and rinse it under cold water when you are ready to use it.
Never share your mouth guard
A mouth guard is like a toothbrush; it should never be shared with another person. By doing so, you risk transferring microorganisms that can cause illness, including tooth decay, in another person. Even if the germs don't make the primary wearer sick, not being acclimated to the bacteria or viruses in another person's mouth can make someone else to become ill. If you are concerned about being approached by a teammate or other person asking to borrow your mouth guard, carry a new, sealed and inexpensive mouth guard with you to give out to others.
Keep your mouth guard in a clean environment
If your activity requires to remove and reinsert your mouth guard multiple times per day between cleanings, always keep it stored inside a clean plastic case. Do not lay the mouth guard on any other objects, especially surfaces such as tables that are known to harbor disease-causing microorganisms.
If the plastic storage case does not have any ventilation holes, heat a needle with a lighter and use it to poke several holes in the top of the case to allow air circulation. Be sure to wash out the plastic case with hot, soapy water on a regular basis, so it doesn't become a site for microbial cross-contamination.
Brush and floss teeth prior to inserting your mouth guard
To keep your mouth guard from accumulating microbial sources of food, always brush and floss your teeth prior to insertion. After brushing, drink water and avoid sugary drinks that can create rich environments for bacterial growth. If you must eat or drink anything other than water, rinse your mouth with plain water to flush out food residues.