Gumshields were first worn by professional boxers as long ago as the 1920s. It was to be many years, however, before their value would be more widely recognised. They are a fairly recent innovation for the rugby player and only began to appear on the rugby pitch with any great frequency in the 1990s. Nowadays, almost all players wear one.
Gumshields are positioned inside the player’s mouth and offer protection against damage to the teeth, cuts to the mouth and injuries to the jaw. The increased use of gumshields has, in fact, led to a significant reduction in orofacial and dental injuries. The modern player is well aware of the value of a gumshield and it is now rare for players not to wear one during matches and practice.
There are three types of gumshield. The cheapest is usually made of latex or rubber and is simply placed in the mouth. The second type, which is marginally more expensive, is commonly called “boil and bite” and this is probably the most familiar to the average player. It is made of thermoplastic material and can be moulded by the user to fit his mouth. Both these types can be purchased off the shelf. The third, and most expensive, is the custom made gumshield. This requires a visit to the orthodontist and usually takes a week or two before it is ready.
For the majority of players, a “boil and bite” gumshield is perfectly adequate. The moulding instructions are on the packet and are simple to follow. Generally speaking the procedure is as follows:
- Boil a pot of water and fully submerge the gumshield for the time specified in the instructions
- Using tongs, gently remove the gumshield from the water and allow it to cool in the air or plunge it into cool water (the instructions will say which) until it is cool enough to put into the mouth
- Place it in the mouth and push it against the teeth with the fingers
- Bite down on the gumshield lightly and use the tongue to push it into the roof of the mouth, while sucking out any air and water
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