In recent years, the safety of various plastics that consumers encounter every day has come into question. Reason for this concern has been the presence of toxic materials such as lead and more recently bisphenol-A (BPA). These chemicals have garnered press attention due to their presence in children's toys and in plastics used for food and beverage storage and other plastic containers. Consumer concern has grown to include many plastics not previously thought of, including dental appliances such as bite guards.
Bite guards have a wide ranging list of benefits both in the treatment of dental problems and as protection for athletes in contact sports. According to AskYourDentist.com, a website dedicated to dental protection and health, nighttime bite guards offer benefits primarily in preventing the grinding and clenching of teeth overnight, which can cause serious damage to teeth and the jaw over time. In athletics, the benefits are more wide-ranging. Used in this application, bite guards prevent over 200,000 oral injuries according to Custom Sports Guards, a vendor of athletic bite guards. Custom Sports Guard's website states that risk of injury to the jaw, as well as concussion and the injury of teeth and and soft tissue in the mouth are lessened when a bite guard is used in contact sports.
Bateria and Other Microorganisms
A 2008 report by Fox News 16 in Arkansas illustrated a previously-overlooked risk in the use of athletic bite guards. This report, while touting the necessity of this safety equipment for young athletes, warns that the athletic bite guard can be a breeding ground for bacteria and other microorganisms if the guards are not properly cared for. A study performed by Oklahoma State University, referenced in the Fox News report indicates that because of the porous nature of the material in some mouth guards there are potential risks from molds which could produce exercise-induced asthma if not cleaned properly. Also of concern are bacterias which may breed in the guard's wet, warm, moist and porous surfaces and could enter the stomach, potentially causing nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Experts recommend cleaning the mouth guard after each use, and also disposing of the mouth guard after two weeks of use and replacing it with a new, clean guard.
Bisphenol-A and Lead
Bisphenol-A (BPA) and lead are concerns of consumers using dental appliances such as mouth guards. According to the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center (PPRC) the US Food and Drug Administration does not require testing for BPA in dental appliances; however, there are new regulations restricting the use of this harmful chemical in toys intended for children. It is unclear if this regulation would extend to mouth bite guards. The PPRC reports that BPA has been a main concern in the use of dental sealants and composite resin filling materials used in dental treatments. Not much information on levels of exposure in bite guards is available. The PPRC does point out that many types of low-cost bite guards are made from polycarbonate, which contains BPA, and cautions that BPA is more likely to leach from these less-expensive mouth guards if the plastic is heated, as in a boil-and-bite guard, or if the guard is exposed to cleaning liquids. Other types of plastics potentially used in mouth guards, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), can contain small amounts of lead. Consumers who are concerned about these exposures should consult their dental professional regarding information on the plastics used in bite guards and suitable safe alternatives.
Is the Hazard Real?
BPA is characterized as a hormone disruptor which can mimic estrogen according to the Toronto Globe and Mail. However, the PPRC states that the degree of health problems caused by BPA has not been well established. Additionally, according to the PPRC, both the American Dental Association and Canadian Dental Association state that exposure to BPA and other potentially harmful chemicals through the use of dental appliances such as bite guards is not a safety concern. Many experts do warn that precautions can and should be taken such as avoiding BPA exposure entirely until health effects are more completely known.