The importance of a tailored custom fit mouthguard when participating in any contact sport is something that goes without saying as it not only protects teeth from being broken but also protects the jaw and can reduce the risk of concussive injuries.
However, there is a somewhat alarming trend found in American contact sports in particular of choosing not to wear a mouthguard, and the reasons for this showcase an alarming trade-off between safety and competitive advantage.
The National Football League, one of the most popular contact sports leagues in the world, does not in fact have a rule regarding the use of mouthguards in its most recent set of rules, nor does the National Basketball Association or Major League Baseball.
This is quite concerning given the levels of contact to the head, and the potential mouthguards have for preventing concussions, one of the most concerning long-term consequences of playing full-contact sports.
Many players will choose to wear one anyway, for either safety reasons or to avoid losing a tooth. However, there are others who either will abandon wearing a mouthpiece quickly if it is dislodged or will simply avoid wearing one entirely.
The NFL, like many team sports, requires a lot of communication, and some players choose to prioritise communication with teammates over safety.
Others do not like putting in a mouthguard after it has been dislodged, and due to the pace of the game often do not have time to get it cleaned or replaced before play resumes.
Unlike in boxing or mixed martial arts, where a stricken mouthpiece would land on the canvas and a fight could not resume without the mouthpiece being replaced, mouthguards not secured to a helmet run the risk of falling onto the field.
This, alongside the fact that the NFL does not have a rule mandating their use, has led some players to treat them as optional, a trend that has increased in recent years.
This could change if the league mandates that all players wear one on the field, but until that rule is put in place, players are risking their safety unnecessarily.