When you step in a boxing ring you accept that violence might come your way. Tensions are high and your adrenaline is skyrocketing. Seconds before the punches start flying your trainer inserts your mouth guard and it’s show time. But, why do boxers wear mouth guards?

Boxers wear mouth guards to protect their teeth and to better take a punch. Mouth guards offer protection from an unwanted trip to the dentist and can also be instrumental in a fighter’s ability to take a punch. When you bite down on your guard you can soften even the hardest blows.

You likely take the use of mouth guards in boxing for granted. However, you may not know there is a bit of history behind this simple device. From the first time two people stepped into the ring, injuries have been a part of the sport. Your mouth guard will protect against these injuries.  This can help you win the fight, and ensure you’re ready to fight another day. Keep reading to learn all you need to know about mouth guards.

Why Do Boxers Wear Mouth Guards?

Mouth guards have been a vital tool for protecting the teeth and face since boxing’s beginning.  Early pugilists would often make their own mouth guards out of materials such as cotton, sponge, and even wood. These early prototypes served their purpose, but they required that the fighter be continually clenching their teeth to be effective. As you can imagine, when fists are flying, this would at times prove to be an impossible task. The results were facial injuries, lost teeth, and lip and gum damage. In the late 19th century rubber mouth guards were invented in England. Eventually reusable mouth guards became commonplace and the rest is history.   

Mouth guards quickly became one of the most crucial pieces of equipment a boxer would bring to the gym. With a mouth guard you can fight with less risk of fight ending injuries.  Fans would have missed out on hundreds of classic encounters if not for this simple invention. One such example saw mouth guards move into the mainstream. In a classic fight in 1927 between Jack Sharkey and Mike McTigue, many ringside observers had McTigue winning this fight over the “Boston Gob”, and possibly on his way to an improbable victory.  McTigue did not get the upset win. A chipped tooth led to a lip injury that robbed fans of a nail-biter finish.

Fast forward to the present, and the modern mouth guard is a scientific marvel. Current fighters are faster, stronger, and hit harder than their predecessors. In spite of this, there are less facial injuries today in contact sports. Today your mouth guard is unique and molded specifically for you.  You will notice that modern guards hold tight to your teeth. They also have a sleek design allowing normal breathing. The most vulnerable parts of your teeth and lips are protected.

The prevalence of mouth guards in the sport of boxing, and the obvious protections provided, has led to a host of other sports recommending, or even requiring the use of mouth guards.  Football and hockey players rarely show up at game time without their mouth guard in place.  You will see them in almost any sport where getting hit is a game objective.

What happens if you don’t wear a mouth guard?

Despite the protection provided, many still find mouth guards uncomfortable to use.  However, before you decide to enter the ring without one you should consider the very real dangers that exist. A study found 60% of all injuries in fighting sports were tooth fractures.  This type of trauma is not only painful, but can also be quite expensive to repair. Early fighter’s  toothless smiles are a testament to the mouth guard. Using your mouth guard will allow you to weather a punch. Clenching down on the rubber acts as an effective shock absorber for the jaw. You greatly reduce your chance of a structural injury when equipped with a properly fitted guard.   

Are Mouth Guards Mandatory in Boxing?

Mouth guards obviously prevent injury and are a crucial part of a boxer’s tools, but are they mandatory?  The good news is that mouthpieces are mandatory in the sport of boxing. Other sports have mandated their use as well, however enforcement is not always consistent. In the sport of boxing this is not an issue. You must have your mouth guard in place before the ref will allow you to answer the bell. Boxing places great importance on the mouth guard. If you spit out your guard points or disqualification may follow. You will also see a pause in the action if a ref notices a missing or damaged guard. In a sport rife with potential for injury, using your mouth guard is perhaps the single most important step you can take to ensure you’re not on the receiving end of one.

Why Do Mouth Guards Only Protect the Top Teeth?

Why then, if a mouth guard is so important, does it only cover the top teeth? There are a few reasons why this particular design is employed. One study found that up to 90% of dental injuries in combat sports resulted in lacerations to the upper lip,  or fractures and chipping to the upper teeth. Injuries to the lower lip and teeth are rare. The design of a properly fitted guard makes this possible. When you bite down on your mouth guard it partially covers the lower teeth. The physical structure of the jaw will ensure this is the case. Your lower teeth are afforded the protection as a result.

You will also find the need to breathe prevents a dual teeth design. The need for a clear airway, in this case, outweighs the smaller chance of lower jaw injuries. Additionally, the bottom teeth are essential in maintaining a clenched jaw. A fighter uses his lower teeth to firmly grip the rubber guard. This might not be possible with  a design covering both the upper and lower teeth.

Will Boxing Ruin My Teeth?

Boxers can be vain, despite the nature of the sport. A common question is if boxing will ultimately ruin your winning smile. There is a chance for dental injury in any contact sport.  Boxing presents an even greater chance. Chipped teeth, missing teeth, and broken bones, while not common, are one of the risks of the sport. Improperly fitted, or low quality mouth guards are one of the most common culprits. You don’t have to resign yourself to ruined teeth as a boxer. Many of our favorite fighters have perfect teeth even after long careers. The common denominator is the use of a quality mouth guard.  .

Final Thoughts

Always remember your mouth guard.  Whether it is your first fight or your last. Millions of coaches and athletes heed this advice every day. They walk away from the ring looking as good as when they entered. There are enough dangers you will face in the squared circle.  Make sure this isn’t one of them. Equip yourself with a good mouth guard to ensure your post fight interview is picture perfect.