By Toby Rowland, NEWS 9
Mouth guards are meant to protect, but even when they hit the ground, the game must go on.
"It's pretty gross," mother Patricia Howell said. "It lands on probably the floor of the locker room. They're in the bag that is absolutely disgusting."
Patricia Howell's son, Trenton, plays hockey. She makes sure to get a new mouth guard each season, but like most other moms, Patricia doesn't think about it much after that.
"He used to wear it where they were attached to the cage. We never took it off, and then he'd put it in his mouth. I mean, we never cleaned it," Patricia Howell said. "Never."
The results of a new study may have athletes rethinking those actions. They found many athletes are exposing themselves to a shocking amount of bacteria each time they put their mouth guards in to play.
"You expose the mouth guard to, say, a thousand germs. Then you put the mouth guard away and, overnight, millions and millions of germs will grow from that thousand," Microbiologist Doctor Tom Glass said. "So when you put the mouth guard back in, certainly you have a significant number of microorganisms."
Microbiologists at Oklahoma State University made the discovery after swabbing dozens of mouth guards used by area athletes. The results were published in an issue of General Dentistry.
"The mouth guard becomes highly, highly contaminated," Glass said. "In other words, every time the athlete puts the mouth guard into his mouth, it's like putting a handful of dirt in his mouth."
Mouth guards look solid, but are actually permeable. That allows for flexibility, but it also allows for easier growth of bacteria and microorganisms. Researchers said it is reason for serious concern.
"Not only are we worried about the effect right there in the mouth, we're worried about the effect in the lungs, with exercise-induced asthma from molds, and we're worried about the bacteria in the stomach that will produce toxins that will cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea," Glass said.
Researchers said if the mouthpiece cuts the tissue of the mouth and the germs get into the bloodstream, the results could be worse.
"We have found staphlycoccus aureus in the mouthguards that are methicillin resistant and, of course, this can be a fatal episode," Glass said.
Mouth guards are important. They help prevent not just tooth damage, but other facial injuries and concussions. Experts said rinsing or boiling a mouth guard isn't enough.
"Change the mouth guard at least once every two weeks. Simply throw it away," Glass said.
Costing around $2 each, Patricia Howell said that's not a problem for her.