Would you lick the inside of your gym bag? What about the mats at your gym?
No! Of course you wouldn’t, because you’re a sensible person and you know that that’s just gross. But you might already be doing something just as bad.
That’s right, I’m talking about mouthguards. They’re easy to forget about. You probably pop yours into your mouth before you roll or spar, spit it out at the end of class, toss it into your bag, and then – what? Leave it there overnight? Stash your bag in your closet or car?
You might be overlooking your mouthguard, but germs, bacteria, and mold sure aren’t. That spitty surface is a perfect breeding ground for all sorts of icky things. Trust me on this – you don’t want to go online and look at what those things are. I did, and I regret it, and now I feel the need to go home and scrub my teeth…and my gums…and my esophagus...
But the good news is that with proper mouthguard maintenance, you can stop that gross growth in its tracks! Here are several easy steps you can take to keep your mouthguard cleaner and safer:
1. Wash your mouthguard after every use.
And the sooner, the better. If you won’t be able to wash it right away after use (for example, if you’re at an out-of-town tournament and have to drive home), rinse it off before you store it.
2. Soap it up.
Water alone won’t work. You can use dish soap, liquid hand soap, or another mild cleanser. Make sure you’re cleaning inside the mouthguard as well as the outside. Use your (clean!) fingers or a brush to get soap into the spaces where your teeth go.
3. Treat it like your teeth.
A toothbrush makes a great mouthguard cleaner. Have a separate toothbrush for your mouth guard. Scrub it with toothpaste after you’ve washed it with soap for a better taste and more thorough cleaning. You can also soak your mouth guard in mouthwash, from as little as ten minutes to overnight.
4. Get a case…
If you’ve been using a plastic bag, Tupperware dish, ornamental Babylonian urn or anything else that is not specifically a case for mouthguards, then shame on you. No, just kidding. I’ve been guilty of that too. But seriously, buy a case. They cost less than five bucks, and unlike a bag, are ventilated so your mouthguard can dry out properly.
5. …and clean that, too.
If you put a clean mouthguard into an unclean case, guess what? You have an unclean mouthguard. Any time that you wash your mouthguard after use, make sure you wash and dry the case too.
6. Don’t have a dirty mouth.
Good oral hygiene is good oral hygiene, with or without a mouthguard. The fewer germs are on your teeth when you put the guard in, the fewer will be there later. Brush your teeth regularly, before and after you wear your mouthguard.
7. Know when to say goodbye.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. Most mouth guards should be replaced yearly, but some specialty guards can be used longer with proper care. You should also regularly inspect your mouthguard for signs of wear, like cracks, holes, or rough spots. These make the guard harder to clean thoroughly and are hiding spots for bacteria. When you find these age signs, it’s time for a new mouth guard.
8. Try really hard not to drop your mouth guard on the floor!
Yes, we’ve come full circle back to the gym floor. This is a pet peeve of mine: all the time at the gym I go to, I see guys drop their mouth guards. But that’s not what bothers me – it’s that they just put the darn things right back in without so much as a rinse-off. I have literally seen a man drop his mouthguard onto the floor where people were rolling just seconds ago, pause to pick a hair off it, then shove it back in his mouth. The five-second rule does not apply where there are puddles of sweat and, occasionally, blood.
I get that this one’s tough. Sparring without a mouthguard is a terrible idea – maybe even worse that using one you dropped and quickly picked up. The best way to avoid this problem is not to encounter it in the first place.
Now, if you’ll excuse me -- I have to go clean my mouthguard too!