Are NHL Players Required to Wear Mouthguards?

Posted on May 20, 2024 by Dan Kent
mouthguard nhl

With pucks, hockey sticks and elbows flying around the ice during NHL games, it's no wonder players sometimes lose their teeth during the heat of action. But since full-face shields aren't allowed by the league, the only way to help protect their pearly whites is by wearing a mouthguard.

Do all NHL players wear mouthguards?

NHL players are not required to wear a mouthguard as the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players' association lets each individual make their own decision. 

However, players must wear a helmet, and those who joined the league after 2013/14 also have to wear a visor to protect their eyes. Mouthguards are mandatory in children's leagues around the world as well as many adult leagues. 

Why do NHL players not wear mouthguards?

For the most part, National Hockey League players do wear mouthguards. However, a small percentage of the league, around 10%, chooses not to. There is no evidence of this, but I would imagine it has to do with the overall discomfort and potential breathing impact mouthguards have.

Although mouthguards do help prevent damage to someone's teeth and tongue and potentially lessen the blow of a hit, there is no doubt they are not exactly the most comfortable thing to wear during a game.

Should you wear a mouthguard in hockey?

If you're playing hockey at any level or any contact sports, you should wear a mouthguard. And if you're looking for one of the best ones to buy, I'd suggest SafeJawz.

Not only do they reduce the potential of you losing your teeth or biting your tongue during play, but they also have been proven to help reduce the impact of a concussion, proven by research put out by the University of Calgary in 2020.

mouthguard-protection

Although a select few professional players do not utilize mouthguards, likely because of their inconvenience, they are well compensated for playing the game. They can afford extensive dental work and recovery times in the case of an injury. The average recreational and youth player cannot.

Should you wear a mouthguard with a cage in hockey?

Just because you're wearing a cage doesn't mean you don't need a mouthguard. The protection of a mouthguard will mostly come into play during body checks and blows to the head, none of which a cage helps in reduced severity.

Although the cage will eliminate the need for a mouthguard for tooth and mouth protection from errant sticks, you still need it to cushion teeth and reduce the impact during hits and other blows to the head.

How effective are mouthguards for hockey?

A properly fitted mouthguard is highly effective at not only protecting a player's teeth, cheeks, tongue, and overall mouth but, as mentioned, it has been proven that they are highly effective at preventing concussions, which are hard blows to the head which cause the brain to shift rapidly.

Using mouthguards helps keep players from smashing their teeth together, cutting their lips, biting their tongues, fracturing jaws, chipping or losing teeth due to collisions, or being struck in the mouth by the puck and sticks. 

However, if struck directly in the face, players may lose teeth when wearing a mouthguard.

Why do ice hockey players chew on their mouthguards?

Hockey Player with Mouth guard

Photo by SeeELMessenger licensed under CC BY 2.0

Chewing on a hockey mouthguard is nothing more than a habit developed by players. Players will often only use their mouthguards when needed because they can obstruct breathing and are viewed as a nuisance. So instead of them taking their mouthguards out and putting them in their hands on the bench, you'll often see them chewing on them.

When was the mouthguard invented?

Mouthguards for hockey players were invented in the 1950s by a Canadian dentist named Arthur Wood. Although the NHL does not mandate them, it's estimated that up to 90 percent of players wear one.

Most mouthguards are made of ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), a rubber-type elastomer polymer material.

Each NHL team has its custom mouthguards manufactured at a local dental laboratory, with each mouthguard moulded specifically for the individual player.

Common Types of Mouthguards

mouthguard

Ideally, a mouthguard should be three millimetres thick to absorb, cushion and adequately distribute the shock when struck directly in the mouth.

There are several types of mouthguards available for hockey players, but some are far more effective than others.

Custom Made

A custom-made mouthguard is the best type worn by just about every NHL player who wears the protective equipment. These mouthguards are moulded to the shape of a player's teeth by an oral professional for a perfect fit and comfort.

Since the mouthguard fits the teeth perfectly, it makes it easy to breathe and speak while wearing it. Custom mouthguards can also be adapted to braces and orthodontic appliances.

The benefit of these custom mouthguards – although more expensive and costly to get fitted – is that they are much less likely to fall out accidentally or hinder a player's ability to concentrate on the game.

One Size Fits All

These ready-to-use mouthguards come in one specific size. This means you purchase and place the item in your mouth when playing. But since it isn't moulded to your teeth, you may have to clench them to keep the mouthguard in place.

These mouthguards are often bulky and can make it difficult to speak and breathe while wearing one. In addition, they don't provide a great deal of protection.

Boil and Bite mouthguard

The boil and bite mouthguard type is moulded to fit your mouth and teeth (like this one). You need to soften the thermoplastic device in boiling water and then place it in your mouth while it's soft and bite down on it. The material will then mould to the shape of your teeth.

These mouthguards offer better protection than the one-size-fits-all models but aren't as good as custom-made options. They may also eventually lose their shape after a while.

However, this is by far the top choice of mouthguard for recreational and minor league players who do not want to fork over extensive fees for a dentist to make them a custom mold. You can buy one of the highest quality boil and bite mouthguards here.

How to clean your mouthguard

A protective mouthguard can gather bacteria, which could lead to an infection in the mouth. It's recommended that players keep their mouthguards in a sturdy, perforated protective case that provides airflow.

Mouthguards should be thoroughly cleaned with cold water, mouthwash or toothpaste and a brush after each use for health and safety reasons. They can also be cleaned with soap, water, hydrogen peroxide, and specific mouthguard cleaners.

They should also be replaced when they wear out or become uncomfortable, and be aware that mouthguards can lose their shape if exposed to extreme heat.

Each NHL team has its dental surgeon to take care of mouth and teeth injuries, but their services aren't free. With most players already wearing a mouthguard, the league may make it a mandatory piece of equipment in the future.

Is Hockey Dangerous?

Hockey has lots of inherent risks, but it can be safely played. Read all about the dangers and how to prepare over on my guide: How Safe Is Hockey?

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

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