As with any sport, BJJ often has debates about what type of safety equipment is needed when first beginning to train. There are pros and cons to almost every piece of equipment and some hold strong opinions about the use or necessity of several different types of equipment. Everything from cups to mouthguards are often debated ad nauseam and many perspectives and ideas are brought to the table.
With BJJ, mouthguards are a particularly popular subject of discussion. Many choose simply not to wear one while others spend hundreds of dollars are custom, form-fitted mouthguards. Still others choose to wear the more affordable boil and bite option.
So how do you choose which one is right for you?
History/ Purpose of Mouthguards
The exact origins of the Mouthguards as we know it today, is muddled with controversy and claims by several dentists of being its inventor. Common use of mouthguards began in the early 1930’s in the sport of boxing. Prior to reusable mouth guards, boxers would bite down on cloth or sponges which protected their jaw but pulled much of their focus to keeping the makeshift mouthguard in their mouth.
Eventually, mouthguards became commonplace and even required in many contact and combat sports. All state fighting commissions in the US require combatants to use mouthguards and many sports such as football, rugby, and hockey require players to use them as well.
The purpose behind the mouthguard first and foremost is to protect the jaw and dental structure of the wearer. The idea is to protect against incidental or intentional contact with the teeth and prevent any damage to them or the oral cavity in general.
The tongue also receives limited protection from mouthguards as they blunt the sharp edges of the teeth. In other words, when you bite your tongue while wearing a mouthguard it’ll hurt but not as much as if you weren’t wearing one in the first place.
Secondary, but just as important, is the protection against concussions. Many studies have shown mouthguards lessen the severity of concussions when the head receives any form of impact. It’s best to keep these ideas in mind when first deciding whether you choose to wear a mouthguard for BJJ.
The Case Against Mouthguards
Many BJJ practitioners choose not to wear a mouthguard for several reasons including disruption to breathing ability and lack of need. For many who choose not to wear mouthguards, it is simply deemed unnecessary as impacts to the face and jaw are infrequent and negligible in terms of impact.
Some choose not to wear mouthguards during training but choose to put one in during live sparring sessions or competitions. When rolling the idea is less about learning the mechanics and more about winning, therefore, the mouthguard becomes necessary due to the higher chances of impact to the head and jaw.
A word of caution to those choosing not to wear a mouthguard while training in BJJ: many insurance companies can opt to deny coverage for any sports injuries in which proper safety equipment was not worn. In some cases, dental coverage for a contact or combat sport can be waived if a mouthguard is not worn at the time of the injury.
Boil and Bite Mouthguards
For those just starting out in BJJ or for those on a tight budget, the most cost effective option is the boil and bite mouthguards available at most sporting goods stores. Mass produced, and therefore inexpensive, the boil and bite mouthguard is a great option for those beginning to train in BJJ, kids who are still growing, and those who won’t be competing at a high level.
The main drawback to most of the boil and bite mouthguards is their size and negative effect on breathing ability. Most of the boil and bite mouthguards are thick and bulky despite being molded to your teeth. It seems no matter how hard you push the mold to your teeth, you still can’t quite get the mouthguard to fit well enough to alleviate any obstructions to your breathing.
It’s a detail that can be overlooked, but can also be quite annoying when you’re tired and have two more matches at a tournament.
There are several price levels in regards to the boil and bite mouthguards from $2-3 for basic, strapless mouthguards to $20 for “fight specific” mouthguards with a more streamlined shape to make breathing a little easier. Below are several popular options at both ends of the price spectrum.
Rawlings Strapless Mouthguard
The most basic of mouthguards, the Rawlings Strapless mouthguard comes in an array of colors and is easy to form fit to your teeth. This mouthguard will help protect your teeth and lessen the severity of concussions should you have a head injury. It’s also a great back-up mouthguard for the more expensive or custom fitted mouthguards should you forget to bring it to the gym.
The drawback to these particular mouthguards is their bulky size, even after molding the mouthguard according to the instructions. No matter how hard you press the malleable mouthguard to your teeth, it still obstructs a portion of your airflow, making it harder to breathe when rolling. Due to its inexpensive nature, its durability and quality is not of the highest order.
Cheap, easy to mold
Bulky/rigid, hard to breathe, little durability
Shockdoctor Gel Max Mouthguard
One of the most popular name-brand mouthguards in the world, Shockdoctor provides a more scientific approach while still maintaining its inexpensive status. The “Gel” portion of its name derives from the inner liner of the mouthguard which creates a snug fit and allows an easier molding process.
Less bulky than the Rawlings, the Shockdoctor mouthguard still has some shortcomings in terms of its overall size while in use. Though smaller, it still has some obstruction to breathing and air flow.
For the money, this is probably the best overall option for those consistently training in BJJ and the best option for kids who are both growing and participating in multiple sports (there’s a detachable tether to connect them to helmets).
Easy to mold, higher quality
Slightly more expensive, bulky
Relatively new to the scene, Fightdentist seeks to add a little flair to your everyday mouthguard. Made specifically for combat sports, Fightdentist offers a creative outlet for practitioners without breaking the bank like a custom fit mouthguard. Offering everything from fangs to flags, Fightdentist looks like a custom mouthguard without the custom price.
In terms of design, Fightdentist is a hybrid of the Rawlings style and Shockdoctor mouthguards. It’s slim and easy to mold and, of the three mentioned here, provides the greatest amount of airflow when in use.
It’s thin design does have some drawbacks as it is less durable than the Shockdoctor mouthguard and doesn’t last as long. Depending on how much you’re looking to spend, if you want a mouthguard with some flair, you might as well pay for a custom fit mouthguard.
Sleek design, looks like a custom mouthguard
Expensive, not very durable
With the rise in popularity of MMA promotions like UFC and Bellator, so to has there been a rise in the number of custom designed mouthguard companies. Ranging anywhere from $100 to $1,000, custom fit mouthguards are more than just a colorful status symbol. There are dozens of different companies throughout the world who design and create custom mouthguards for high-level athletes and hobbyists alike.
A quick Google search can provide you with a myriad of options, all with great reputations.
Due to their clientele, most custom fit mouthguard companies have made a lot of effort to ensure a proper and more desirable fit. In most cases, companies will provide you with an impression kit with which they use to form the mouthguard to get the best possible fit. Additionally, most companies attempt to create a mouthguard that won’t fall out and provide the greatest amount of airflow possible while still protecting your jaw.
As opposed to the boil and bite mouthguards, the custom fit mouthguards are designed to stay in unless pulled out with some force. This allows the user to focus on the task at hand without worrying if their mouthguard is going to fall out.
The price of these mouthguards is usually depends on the level of protection you wish to have and the likelihood of impact against your jaw. Most companies will use a layering technique to provide more protection against concussions and damage to teeth. For BJJ, one layer of protection is usually sufficient as impacts are generally infrequent and incidental. For those wishing to train in MMA or striking-specific sports, more layers are generally recommended and beneficial.
Probably the most alluring albeit unnecessary traits of custom mouthguards is the options in terms of superficial designs. Most companies have a variety of options and most have the ability to print corporate or gym logos on the mouthguard itself.
The custom fit mouthguard is a popular option for MMA, kickboxing, and boxing practitioners and for the very high-level BJJ practitioners. So if you’re just starting out with BJJ or it’s more of a hobby, this particular option is not recommended. The minimal benefits for BJJ do not outweigh the high-price of the mouthguard itself.
The best option for a BJJ mouthguard is the Shockdoctor Gel Max as it provides the best protection for the price. Custom mouthguards aren’t necessary unless training at a high-level or if you’re considering moving into MMA. The Rawlings mouthguard simply does not have the durability and the Fightdentist mouthguards aren’t worth the price for a little extra design. At the end of the day, I would recommend the Shockdoctor.
Remember, choosing a mouthguard won’t make or break your BJJ experience nor will it prevent you from competing at the highest levels. As stated before, many BJJ practitioners don’t even wear a mouthguard. The choice ultimately comes down to what you can reasonably afford and what you’re comfortable with.
My name’s Mark. I’m super excited you’re here, because every visitor of Goodbye.ninja makes +1 member to the family of Martial Arts.