Even if they’re being reprimanded for tossing them at refs, or lacking a sanitary spot for temporary storage, N.B.A. players appear to put mouth guards to good use, according to a recent New York Times report by  

Surely, it’s scoring points with the American Dental Association, whose surveillance studies of mouth guard users and nonusers have consistently shown that the spit-soaked stalwarts offer significant protection against sports-related injuries to the teeth and soft tissues.

“Some guys put it in their spandex, and some guys put it in their sock, but I think that’s gross,” Cole Aldrich of the New York Knicks told Keh. His preferred spot for the guard when it’s not protecting his palate on the court:  hooked around one of his ears. “I shampoo my hair every day, so I think my head is pretty clean.”

According to a 2007 meta-analysis of studies evaluating the effectiveness of mouthguards in reducing injuries, the overall injury risk was found to be 1.6-1.9 times greater when a mouthguard was not worn, relative to when mouthguards were used during athletic activity, noted the ADA.  Another study of collegiate basketball teams found that athletes wearing custom-made mouthguards sustained significantly fewer dental injuries than those who did not.

Custom-made mouth guards meet N.B.A  regulations, but the league regulates them largely the same way it does other supplementary equipment, like compression sleeves or rubber wristbands. They must be one solid color — white, black, a primary team color or clear — and cannot bear any logos or designs other than a team logo. They must take the form of a player’s mouth.

Mouthguards provide a resilient, protective surface to distribute and dissipate forces on impact, thereby minimizing the severity of traumatic injury to the hard or soft tissues.  The key educational message from dentists for their patients is that the best mouthguard is one that is utilized during sport activities. While custom mouthguards are considered by many to be the most protective option, other mouthguards can be effective if they fit well, are worn properly and stay in place.

The New York Times story illustrates that’s not always the case.

Two seasons ago, Amir Johnson of the Toronto Raptors was suspended for one game after throwing his mouthpiece at the referee David Jones on the court. Earlier this season, Enes Kanter of the Utah Jazz was fined $25,000 after throwing his mouth guard into the stands while arguing a call.

Read more about how N.B.A. players embrace mouth guards: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/11/sports/basketball/in-a-league-of-flying-elbows-the-use-of-mouth-guards-has-soared.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=mini-moth&region=top-stories-below&WT.nav=top-stories-below&_r=0