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by JS Dental Lab |

How to Clean Your Mouth Guard

A mouth guard is an excellent investment, whether you’ve recently started using one for high-impact sports or to treat conditions like teeth grinding and jaw clenching. 

You might wonder how you can protect your investment and keep it clean. 

That’s a great question: it’s crucial to clean a mouth guard the right way to avoid illness or damage to the product.

A few factors influence how and when you should clean different mouth guards, but don’t stress. 

Let’s dive into everything you should know about cleaning mouth guards safely. We explore various methods and answer some other questions you may have.

Why Do You Need to Clean Your Mouth Guard?

If you brush and floss your teeth before wearing a mouth guard, do you really need to clean it? 

Absolutely. 

There are a few important reasons to regularly and properly clean your mouth guard. Here’s what they are. 

It Helps Avoid Illness

Even if you have top-notch dental health habits, wearing a mouth guard that you haven't cleaned can make you sick. 

The reason?

Bacteria spreads and grows on every surface, and there is always at least some left behind after even the most thorough dental health routine. While you wear a mouth guard, that bacteria transfers to the product’s surface and grows.

It Helps Avoid Tooth Decay and Bad Breath

Bacteria cause dental health problems like tooth decay (cavities) and periodontitis (gum disease). 

Unclean mouth guards spread bacteria growth quickly because your teeth are covered and not exposed to cleansing fluids like water and saliva. 

Cleaning your mouth guard dramatically reduces the risk of developing dental issues by removing as much bacteria as possible. 

That same bacteria growth is responsible for bad breath and can cause mouth guard odor.

It Helps Your Mouth Guard Last Longer

No one likes to spend money frequently replacing items that can easily last longer with proper care. And the same goes for your mouth guard. 

Neglecting to clean your mouth guard will expose it to bacteria and buildup, which weakens and breaks down the materials far more quickly. 

The result?

Cracking, tearing, and warping can be dangerous and reduce the effectiveness of the mouth guard. The good news is that diligent cleaning significantly increases the lifespan of your product.

How (and When) to Clean Your Mouth Guard

Close-up of a person measuring out mouthwash

Now that we’ve emphasized the importance of cleaning your mouth guard, it’s time to learn how and when to do it properly. 

These are the basics everyone should know. 

Types of Mouth Guards

Before discussing how to clean a mouth guard, it’s essential to determine what type of product you have. 

There are three general categories of mouth guards. Which one do you have?

Boil and Bite Mouth Guards

Boil and bite mouth guards and night guards are the types you can find over-the-counter. You can buy them at pharmacies, sporting goods stores, and other retailers that carry personal care products. 

Boil and bite products can come in a range of sizes, or one size fits all. Either way, you fit this type of mouth guard at home yourself. You expose the device to boiling water or warm water, bite onto it, so it molds to your teeth, then place it in cool water to set. 

Custom Dental Mouth Guards

A lab creates custom night guards and mouth guards from impressions of your teeth. 

While these products tend to cost a bit more, they usually last longer and are more effective because they’ve been created professionally just for you.

Some dental device companies offer at-home impression kits you can do yourself and mail in at your convenience. The other option is to see a dentist who can create impressions and send them to a lab for you. 

Stock Mouth Guards

Stock mouth guards are typically not molded to fit your teeth and are only intended for protection while you participate in contact sports or other high-impact activities that may damage your teeth. 

They come in different sizes and are available to purchase at sporting goods retailers and some drug stores. Stock mouth guards are not suitable for protecting against teeth grinding or jaw clenching. 

Methods for Regular Cleaning

It’s simple, smart, and affordable to clean your mouth guard regularly to keep your mouth healthy and remove buildup:

Baking Soda

This highly versatile household item is an affordable way to remove foul odors, debris, and discoloration from your mouth guard.

Just follow these easy steps:

  • Use a clean bowl to mix equal parts water and baking soda to make a paste
  • Use a separate toothbrush for cleaning to gently brush your mouth guard
  • Once clean, rinse your mouth guard with cool water
  • Allow your mouth guard to air dry completely on a clean surface

Soap and Water

That’s right: many of the soaps you have around the house are suitable for cleaning your mouth guard. Just be sure to use alcohol-free soaps to prevent damage to your mouth guard (think dish soap and certain antibacterial hand soaps). 

When you’ve found a mild soap, you’re ready to start:

  • First, use cool water to rinse your mouth guard
  • Apply a small amount of soap to your mouth guard
  • Use a separate toothbrush for cleaning to gently brush the inside and outside of your mouth guard
  • Rinse your mouth guard in cool water until all the soap suds are gone
  • Allow your mouth guard to air dry completely on a clean surface

Toothpaste

The same toothpaste you trust to keep your teeth clean can do the same for your mouth guard. Avoid using abrasive toothpaste that can damage your mouth guard, and keep a separate soft bristle toothbrush handy just for cleaning. 

Here’s what you do:

  • Use cool water to rinse your mouth guard
  • Place a small amount of toothpaste on the soft bristle toothbrush (use a separate toothbrush designated for cleaning)
  • Gently brush your mouth guard both inside and out
  • Rinse away all of the toothpaste with cool water
  • Allow your mouth guard to air dry completely on a clean surface

Mouthwash

Alcohol-free mouthwash will provide the same antimicrobial benefits for cleaning a mouth guard as it does for your mouth and teeth. 

This is the recommended way to use mouthwash for cleaning a mouth guard:

  • First, rinse your mouth guard using cool water
  • Find a clean glass and add a capful of alcohol-free mouthwash
  • Place your mouth guard inside the glass
  • Add just enough water to cover the mouth guard
  • Let your mouth guard soak for about 30 minutes
  • Remove the mouth guard and use a clean, soft bristle toothbrush to gently brush away any remaining residue
  • Thoroughly rinse your mouth guard with cool water
  • Allow the mouth guard to air dry entirely on a clean surface

Methods for Deep Cleaning

Occasionally, you’ll need to deep clean your mouth guard with methods that are more powerful than standard cleaning techniques.

We’ll discuss how often you should deep clean in the next section. For now, let’s review some ways to deep clean your mouth guard.

Vinegar and Hydrogen Peroxide

You probably already have distilled white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide at home for general household and first aid purposes. 

But you may not be aware that these two liquids make a great team when it comes to deep cleaning your mouth guard. 

The process is safe and easy when you follow these directions:

  • Find a clean glass and place your mouth guard inside
  • Pour just enough distilled white vinegar to cover the mouth guard
  • Allow the mouth guard to soak for 30 minutes
  • Rinse the mouth guard entirely with cool water
  • Thoroughly clean the glass, or find a new clean glass
  • Follow the same process to soak your mouth guard in hydrogen peroxide for an additional 30 minutes
  • Rinse the mouth guard thoroughly in cool water once more
  • Allow your mouth guard to air dry completely on a clean surface

Specialized Dental Appliance Cleaners

Because it is so crucial to keep oral appliances like dentures, retainers, night guards, and mouth guards clean to be effective, some dental health companies offer deep cleaning products (like Efferdent) for this purpose. 

These products are commonly available as over-the-counter denture cleaners at pharmacies, drug stores, and other retailers that carry oral health care products.

Oral appliance cleaners usually come in the form of a tablet or powder that you dissolve in a clean bowl of water and soak your oral device for a certain amount of time. 

Many options are marketed as denture cleaning products but are usually effective in cleaning various dental appliances. 

If you aren’t sure, contact your dentist, dental lab, or your mouth guard manufacturer to ensure a specific cleaner will not harm the oral device you have.

If you choose to deep clean a mouth guard at home using one of these specialized cleaners, it’s best to follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully to avoid damaging your mouth guard. 

As always, allow your mouth guard to air dry completely before you wear it again to reduce potential bacterial growth.

Dental Office Cleanings

Are you planning to visit your dentist soon for a routine checkup or a scheduled procedure? 

Pro tip: you might be able to bring your mouth guard with you to have it professionally cleaned and sanitized. 

Call the dentist’s office ahead of time to find out if this is a service that they or the dental hygienist provides at their practice. Some providers are happy to sanitize your mouth guard as a complimentary service, while others charge a small fee. 

While this service is highly convenient if available to you, never skip routine at-home deep cleaning methods to wait for your dentist appointment. 

Maintain proper and consistent care to avoid damage to your mouth guard or problems like cavities and gum disease. 

Make keeping your mouth guard clean a cinch with: spearmint-flavored night guard cleaner spray

How Frequently Should I Clean My Mouth Guard?

Close-up of a young woman flossing

Cleaning a mouth guard is an essential way to make the product last longer and remain effective. 

However, even proper cleaning methods won’t provide these benefits if you don’t care for a mouth guard often enough. 

Ready to know how often to clean your mouth guard? 

Every mouth guard user should know how frequently they should do both routine and deep cleanings, so check out this basic overview. 

How Often to Routinely Clean Your Mouth Guard

You need to clean your mouth guard daily for regular cleaning methods such as baking soda paste, toothpaste, mouthwash, and antibacterial soap. 

These techniques are less intense, so they are safe to use every day. The benefits of daily cleanings are immense, including a reduced risk of gum disease, cavities, or damage to your mouth guard. 

How Often to Deep Clean Your Mouth Guard

Deep cleaning methods such as soaking in hydrogen peroxide and vinegar, specialized dental device cleaners, or professional cleanings at a dental office should be performed at least once per month if you wear your mouth guard at night and clean it daily. 

If you wear your mouth guard for daytime teeth grinding (bruxism) and jaw clenching in addition to using it at night, it’s best to deep clean the product every week. 

Keep in mind that the more frequently you wear a mouth guard, the more quickly buildup of plaque residue occurs, leading to bacteria growth.

Ways You Shouldn’t Clean Your Mouth Guard

Unfortunately, there are a few misconceptions about a few practical ways to sanitize a mouth guard at home. 

Ensure you don’t use any of these cleaning methods to avoid serious health issues or damage to your mouth guard.

If you’ve tried one of these unsafe techniques, discontinue use and replace your mouth guard as soon as possible. 

Never Clean Your Mouth Guard with Chemicals

You should never clean your mouth guard with chemicals, even if it has been an effective method to clean other items in your household. 

Chemical cleaners should never make contact with your skin or the surfaces in your mouth. Even small amounts of residue left behind after rinsing can cause dangerous skin reactions or poisoning. 

Additionally, chemicals can damage your mouth guard by warping the material or breaking it down, so it’s more vulnerable to cracking and tearing. 

While the integrity of the product is an important consideration, your health and safety should always be the primary concern if you’re considering cleaning your mouth guard with chemicals. 

Here are a few examples of chemical products you should not use to clean your mouth guard:

  • Disinfectant wipes or sprays
  • Bleach products
  • Window or glass cleaner
  • Surface wipes or sprays

Never Sanitize a Mouth Guard with Boiling Water

Most mouth guards are plastic or silicone, which are flexible and durable materials when cared for properly. 

However, neither plastic nor silicone is safe to boil for sanitizing purposes. They can warp or even melt when exposed to high temperatures. 

You should never sanitize custom dental mouth guards or stock night guards for contact or high-impact sports using boiling water. 

Naturally, you can submerge mouth guards in boiling water once if they are the boil and bite variety and you are making the initial impression. After allowing these products to set in cool water, you should not expose them to boiling water ever again to avoid damage. 

If water alone is your only option for cleaning your mouth guard, you can use warm or lukewarm water to rinse and a soft-bristle toothbrush to gently scrub away food debris or plaque residue. 

Further reading: Is it Okay to Boil Mouth Guards?

Other Tips for Keeping a Mouth Guard Sanitary

Don’t forget these essential best practices for keeping your mouth guard clean and your mouth healthy:

Use Ventilated Boxes for Protection

Ventilated storage boxes keep your mouth guard protected when you aren’t using them for several reasons. 

First, ventilation allows for airflow that reduces the spread of harmful bacteria that can cause tooth decay, bleeding gums, and gum disease. 

You’ll want to have two separate cases for storing your mouth guard before and after you’ve cleaned it for your health and safety. Clean your boxes regularly to keep bacteria at bay. 

Second, a case can guard against damage caused by pets, children, and accidental crushing. 

Let Your Mouth Guard Dry After Cleaning

Moisture allows harmful bacteria to grow more quickly, which is why every cleaning method mentioned in this article ends with a reminder to allow the device to dry completely before using it.

You can either use a ventilated case or place the mouth guard on a clean paper towel in a safe location where it will not be chewed by pets or played with by children. 

Don’t use a warm or hot hairdryer to speed up the process; you may alter the fit and cause damage that renders your mouth guard less effective. 

Brush and Floss Before Wearing a Mouth Guard

Cleaning your mouth guard diligently won’t matter much if you don’t brush and floss your teeth before and after wearing it. 

Why?

If you don’t brush and floss first, you’ll expose your mouth guard to food particles and plaque debris. These materials leave your teeth vulnerable to all the bacteria that damage your enamel, cause tooth decay, and possibly lead to gum disease. 

Brush and floss your teeth after using your mouth guard, too: it clears away any bacteria that may have built up during wear. 

Conclusion

Wearing a mouth guard has a variety of benefits. But if you don’t keep it clean, you can put yourself at risk for other oral health issues. 

Be sure to follow these tips and contact us with any additional questions you may have!