It’s unnerving to get involved in mixed martial arts with a set of dental braces, in no small part down to the significant cost of replacing them.
You can train in MMA with braces by getting a custom molded mouthguard from your orthodontist (expensive) as they need to adequately cover teeth, brackets of your braces, and gum. Some off-the-shelf boil and bite mouthguards can be used but are far less protective.
Keep reading to get the full lowdown of your options.
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MMA training while wearing braces
Training MMA with braces on is common, as long as you get the right protection from a custom-fit mouthguard by your orthodontist.
It needs to be an orthodontist-made mouthguard to ensure it has the maximum protection to surround your teeth, braces, and gums.
Although most MMA training involves pad work, heavy bags, drills, and working with a coach, it’s the sparring aspect where things get dicey.
If you want to keep your braces and teeth completely safe from damage (or at least, mostly safe) then you should focus on:
- Heavy bag
- Working 1-on-1 with an experienced coach
- Only training in partner combinations or drills with an experienced partner who knows how to relax and flow without trying to prove something on your face
Generally speaking, it isn’t a good idea to get involved in heavy sparring when you have braces.
A strong kick to the jaw could pull your mouthguard and the braces with it, all in one.
It’s entirely possible to suffer severe injuries to your teeth with enough blunt force, as the braces act as an extra ‘pull’ on your entire set.
And if your braces set you back several thousand dollars, it’s another reason to think carefully about the sparring you get involved in.
I’m sure your orthodontist will be more than happy to slap up another $1000-3000 bill to correct the damage, but your wallet might suffer.
MMA sparring safely with braces
You can spar opponents whilst wearing braces, but the safety of doing so depends a lot on the intensity level and type of sparring.
Different types include flow sparring, technical sparring, light sparring, and heavy sparring. Make sure you know which sparring you’re getting involved in so you can predict the level of force being used.
In flow-sparring, the goal is often to imitate a fight in a very light and rhythmic way and NOT get any significant strikes on your sparring partner.
It’s to observe and respond intuitively to the way they move as it helps develop confidence in your movement and situational awareness.
Many professional fighters focus a lot on flow sparring to keep their skills and twitch responses to a high level without suffering unnecessary injuries leading up to a fight.
Technical sparring can be similar, like drilling techniques in flow with a partner.
Light sparring is usually when fighters are putting 30-40% effort into the session to help develop their responsiveness and movement patterns. There’s some risk here for things to get heated and heavy strikes to land, putting you at more risk.
Heavy or ‘full contact’ sparring is when fighters are going 80-100% effort and this is what you should avoid if you have braces.
Amateur vs pro MMA sparring
If you are an amateur fighter sparring with other amateurs, it’s still important to wear an orthodontist-level custom mouthguard.
Whilst amateurs are less likely to have the skills of knockout punching or jaw-accurate strikes, a fight is still very unpredictable and a lucky shot could cause a lot of damage.
In amateur fights I’ve seen first-hand, they very often start with simpler techniques and positioning, but very quickly the quality descends into limb-swinging madness, and heavy strikes to the face and head are common.
Amateurs can also forget to use their mouthguards efficiently by biting down on their punches—thrown and received.
When you don’t bite down on your guard, a stray hit to the face can knock your mouthguard out completely and perhaps some braces along with it.
At a pro level, you shouldn’t even be considering most sparring situations or competition with braces.
The higher skill level means much more precise and powerful blows to the mouth and jaw regularly, risking a serious injury even while wearing a mouthguard.
Solutions for protecting braces in MMA
Let’s look at some solutions to this problem.
Orthodontist custom mouthguard
To protect your braces whilst continuing to train in MMA, the best solution is a custom mouthguard from a professional orthodontist.
While many custom mouthguards can be bought online, they aren’t designed to be flexible around a full set of braces.
The issue is that consumer custom mouthguards are not designed to include enough mold to get an accurate covering over your teeth and braces simultaneously.
You need something extra dense and with additional coverage, high up the gumline.
Boil and bite mouthguard for braces
There are some boil and bite mouthguard options that have enough material to cover braces and your teeth.
For example, Impact Mouthguard’s Quick-Fit Boil and Bite mouthguards.
A guard like this gives a good amount of mold for getting enough coverage suitable for light sparring, but you likely shouldn’t entrust any boil and bite guard for full protection—especially with braces.
It’s possibly a good idea to even consider a double-sided mouthguard if your braces cover your bottom teeth as well.
A double-sided mouthguard is bitten down in the middle, but it has teeth and gum protection covering both top and bottom sets of teeth.
Double-sided mouthguards are a bit more awkward to wear as they make breathing more challenging (though most have extra airflow holes) and speaking impossible.
Airflow is pretty important when fighting as quick exhales are a common part of throwing strikes to ensure efficiency.
I’d also think the double-sided option is even more likely to fall out because it has a heavy dependency on your teeth clenching it in place.