Purpose: Mouthguards protect the tooth-bone complex from impact loads that occur during sporting activity. The aim of this study is to investigate the effects of varying mouthguard thickness and stiffness on the magnitude of tensile stresses in the tooth-bone-complex.
Methods: A two-dimensional, plane stress, finite element representation of a central maxillary incisor (CMI) is created. For validation purposes, displacements of the incisal edge of the unprotected tooth model are compared with in vivo displacements under similar loads. A protective mouthguard is then superimposed over the model with varied labial thickness (1-6 mm) and stiffness (9-900MPa) representing a range of designs available. A large horizontal static load of 500N is then applied to the anterior surface of the mouthguard and the resulting stresses in the tooth-bone complex are presented. It is suggested that this loading condition most accurately represent the situation occurring when a guarded tooth collides with a soft object (e.g. boxing glove).
Results: It is generally found that mouthguard thickness and stiffness are both desirable in terms of reducing stresses. However, the protection offered by the low-stiffness guards, regardless of thickness, is minimal. Since this low-stiffness (9MPa) is representative of the most common choice of material in mouthguard fabrication, such findings may cast doubt on the ability of popular mouthguards to redistribute stress.
Conclusion: While few would disagree that these low-stiffness guards absorb shock during hard-object collisions (e.g. baseballs), they may not protect the tooth-bone during soft-object collisions (e.g. boxing gloves). In order to optimize their protective capabilities for a range of loads, the range of materials used in mouthguard construction may have to be reconsidered.