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The History of the Mouthguard

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

Sporting equipment that protects against injury hasn't always existed. Just as sports have changed over time, helmets, shin pads, shoulder pads and mouthguards have evolved as well. Mouthguards have become an indispensable part of sports equipment today, helping to prevent injuries to the mouth and jaw. Mouthguards began their journey in London around the turn of the 20th century but gained popularity in America around the 1950s and 60s.

A London dentist, Woolf Krause, developed the first mouthguard in 1890. Made from gutta percha, it was called a Gum Shield. At the time, lip lacerations were a common injury among boxers, so it was designed specifically to prevent them. His son Philip Krause, also a dentist and amateur boxer, further refined his father's design and invented the first reusable mouthguard, which debuted in a championship fight between Jack Britton and Ted “Kid” Lewis, wearing the new mouthguard in 1921. This caused controversy as some felt Lewis had an unfair advantage. Mouthguards saw a slight decline in sales as a result. However, by the late 20s, mouthguards were extremely popular among boxers in the UK and America following a widespread problem with chipped teeth amongst the boxing community.

A dentist called Dr. Rodney O. Lilyquist started designing mouthguards in 1947 to fit individual users. For the first splint, he used acrylic resin. Mouthguards could be moulded to fit over upper and lower teeth, making them more comfortable, easier to wear and more discreet. As a result, mouthguards became increasingly popular among basketball players and football players. In the USA, these sports were huge, so mouthguards had a great deal of exposure. The American Dental Association picked up Lilyquist's method because mouthguards were so popular.

By the 1950s, mouthguards had gained so much popularity that the American Dental Association began researching and publishing about their benefits to the public and sports people. By the 1960s, mouthguards were recommended for all contact sports, and even new regulations were introduced.

Mouthguards were mandatory for American high school football players in 1962. The same rule was enforced in 1973 by American college basketball. In adult sports across the UK and in the USA, mouthguards were (and continue to be) highly recommended but not compulsory.

In the 1990s, ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA) dental plastic was used to construct high-temperature, pressure-laminated mouthguards. Several companies experimented with thermoplastics, leading to the boil-and-bite method used in Game Guard gumshields.

In many sports, mouthguards have become a standard piece of equipment. As well as football, ice hockey, field hockey, and lacrosse are currently required to wear mouthguards by the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association). Mouthguards are extremely effective in preventing facial injuries in contact and non-contact sports, according to the ADA (American Dental Association). 29 sports are recommended for mouthguard use by the ADA: acrobatics, basketball, bicycling, boxing, equestrian, football, gymnastics, handball, ice hockey, inline skating, lacrosse, martial arts, racquetball, rugby football, shot putting, skateboarding, skiing, skydiving, soccer, softball, squash, surfing, volleyball, water polo, weightlifting, and wrestling. At all levels of Gaelic football, mouthguards are mandatory.

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