When signing your child up for youth wrestling, it may be overwhelming to try and figure out what type of gear you need to get to prepare him or her to step onto the mat for the first time. Do I have to buy one of those stretchy suits? What about the ear pieces? Are knee pads and mouthguards required?
Unless your child wears braces, wrestlers generally do not have to wear a mouthguard. However, wearing a mouthguard is highly recommended while wrestling, both during practice and competition.
Early acclimation to a mouthguard is a great habit to develop in your wrestler. Biting of the cheeks and tongue, chipped teeth, and concussions caused from inadvertent blows to the chin are all realistic hazards that come with a physical sport like wrestling, with a mouthguard significantly mitigating all of these concerns, if used properly.
What Type of Mouthguard Should Wrestlers Get?
The type of mouthguard you get for your wrestler depends on the circumstances. In most cases, you will want something light and unobtrusive. As a sport that requires both aerobic and anaerobic elements, a wrestler’s mouthguard should allow him or her to breathe freely in aerobic situations and clench his or her jaw comfortably in those tight anaerobic scenarios.
In general, a small, tight-fitting, single-row mouthguard that fits snugly over the top teeth is the best mouthguard for wrestlers. These mouthguards are cheap and readily available online and at any sporting goods store. As such, it is recommended to get several of these mouthguards and keep them at various locations, such as in his or her wrestling bag, locker, or car, as mouthguards have a tendency to get misplaced.
It is important to remember that these mouthguards are universal and must be molded to fit the wrestler’s mouth. Molding a universal mouthguard requires the following steps:
- Bring about five inches of water to a rolling boil in a small saucepan
- Place the unformed mouthguard into the boiling water, ensuring that it is entirely submerged, and leave it there for two minutes
- Using pinchers, a spoon, or other utensil, remove the mouthguard from the boiling water and splash it with cold water for several seconds at the sink faucet
- Place the mouthguard over your top row of teeth, using your thumb to push the front of the mouthguard as firmly against your front teeth as possible. Bite down hard on the mouthguard and suck in, keeping your mouth closed and biting down hard for 30 seconds
- Remove the mouthguard and run it under cold water until the mold has hardened and set in place
- Insert the set mouthguard to your mouth, checking for comfortability and the absence of any sharp edges or obtrusions. If unhappy with the result, repeat these steps again
When purchasing a mouthguard, avoid getting anything with a strap, such as common football mouthguards. While it may seem convenient to strap your mouthguard to your headgear when not in use, this is not a very functional plan for wrestling, as headgears offer no convenient places for mouthguards to be strapped, with any efforts likely to result in a safety hazard that could see fingers get caught and/or the mouthguard ripped from place.
Mouthguards for Wrestlers with Braces
The exception to the mouthguard rule is for wrestlers who wear braces. Most youth, middle school, and high school leagues will not allow wrestlers to compete without a mouthguard that covers both rows of braces, so the preferred wrestling mouthguard listed above will not suffice.
While more obtrusive and expensive than most one-row mouthguards, mouthguards for wrestlers with braces generally have the advantage of being engineered with an innovative, no-mold design that eliminates the inconvenience of trying to self-mold a mouthguard to match the intricacy of your braces. However, if you do choose an option that requires molding, extra attention must be given to make sure that the mouthguard is snugly formed around all braces.
Another consideration is that those wrestlers with braces have likely consulted with their orthodontist and received a custom-made mouthguard that will allow them to compete in sports. Whether this is the case, or you purchase a mouthguard on your own, make sure that it sufficiently covers both rows of braces to prevent damage to your wrestler’s lips and/or injury to the opponent, as non-compliant mouthguards could lead to your wrestler being disqualified from competition.
How to Care for a Wrestling Mouthguard
As wrestling mouthguards have no straps, it can be a bit inconvenient to find a place to rest the mouthguard when not in use. While there may not be any way to completely eliminate this inconvenience, there are some best practices you can take to ensure that your mouthguard is in a safe and sanitary place when not in use:
- Bring a case to the wrestling room and have it situated near your practice area. This will help if there are any extended breaks in the action in which you can give your mouthguard a rest
- Hold your mouthguard in your hand during any short breaks in the action. Avoid sticking it in a sock or shorts pocket that may be drenched in sweat
- Use disinfectant to clean your mouthguard before and after each practice session
It is a good idea to get in the habit of wearing your mouthguard at all times during practice. Wrestling is a fast-paced sport, so getting in the habit of constantly inserting and removing your mouthguard will lead to the mouthguard getting misplaced and/or failure to re-insert the mouthguard when needed.
Why Youth Wrestlers Should Wear Mouthguards
In addition to the aforementioned health benefits of wearing a mouthguard, youth wrestlers should start with wearing a mouthguard upon entrance into the sport to build the habit if they choose to continue wrestling in later years.
While youth wrestlers may not be strong enough to make the explosive, high-impact movements that lead to concussions or chipped teeth, getting adapted to wearing a mouthguard when on the mat is necessary so that it is second nature to them when they reach an age when these issues become real.
Take it from a wrestler who went 15+ years without wearing a mouthguard: a mouthguard will feel extremely unnatural if you are in the habit of wrestling without one. However, after dozens of maimed tongue incidents and two chipped teeth, I decided enough was enough and forced myself to get used to it. Now, I feel naked if I step on the mat without a mouthguard, with my only regret being that I did not get in the habit as a kid!