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What is a Mouth Prop?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Mouth props are simple but effective safety devices used by many dentists. Sometimes referred to as a bite block, the mouth prop is designed to help keep the mouth open wide enough for the dentist to perform whatever type of dental procedure the patient requires. A device of this type is particularly helpful with children and others who have difficulty keeping their mouths open for extended periods of time.

In appearance, the typical dental mouth prop looks like a small wedge. There are no sharp edges on the prop, which helps to make the tool a little more comfortable for dental patients. The device is normally constructed with rubber or a similar material that is less likely to cause any type of irritation to the teeth or the lining of the oral cavity. TVP, or thermoplastic vulcanizate is the most common material used in the creation of dental mouth props today.

Another key feature of the mouth prop is the inclusion of ridges along the top and the bottom of the device. The ridges help to make it easier for the teeth along the back area of the mouth to grip the prop. This helps to minimize the chances for slippage while the dentist is performing the desired procedure.

Typically, a dentist will have several difference sizes of props on hand at any given time. There are versions that are small enough to be used with young children, as well as larger mouth props that are suitable for adults. Because of the wide range of sizes, it is possible to find the right mouth prop to hold the mouth open just enough for the dentist to work without any fear of the patient accidentally closing the mouth and biting down on the dentist’s fingers.

While many patients experience little or no discomfort while using a mouth prop, there are some people who cannot stand for the device to be used for any length of time. When this is the case, the patient may become agitated, possibly experiencing an anxiety attack. Dentists sometimes use some type of sedative in conjunction with the mouth prop, minimizing the opportunity for the patient to experience such an unpleasant reaction.

There are also patients who experience a gag reflex when a mouth prop is utilized. The reflex may be strong enough to trigger regurgitation. With patients of this type, it may be necessary to find some other means of keeping the mouth open enough for the dentist to complete the procedure.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including TheHealthBoard, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments

By anon998486 — On Jun 19, 2017

Don't let them use metal ones! This dentist used a metal clamp to keep a mouth open and messed up a child's previous dental work, then denied it happened! Please save yourself and others and make sure you dentist uses updated technology that will not ruin your teeth, gums, or previous work!

By SarahSon — On Oct 17, 2011

When my daughter had to have some dental work done, using a mouth prop worked great for her.

She was quite anxious about this because this was the first time she had to actually have work done - other than her usual check ups.

Once the mouth prop was inserted in her mouth, she actually seemed to calm down and relax a little bit.

This made the whole process go a little bit smoother for everybody.

By LisaLou — On Oct 16, 2011

When I had to have some extensive dental work done, my dentist tried using a mouth prop to keep my mouth open.

This didn't work very well for me because I gag too easily when something like this is placed in my mouth.

I should have known this ahead of time, because I can't keep any foreign object like this in my mouth for any length of time without gagging.

This would have made his job easier and I wouldn't have had to worry about opening and closing my mouth all the time, but at least I know this doesn't work for me.

By everetra — On Oct 16, 2011

@hamje32 - I can’t believe that some patients actually have to be put under with sedatives in order to use the prop.

It’s not that bad, I would think, and it’s a temporary device. I don’t have a problem with them myself. I have more of a problem with the permanent work that gets done on my teeth, like root canal or dental fillings.

That’s where the pain comes in, and more than a little bit of anxiety to boot.

By hamje32 — On Oct 15, 2011

Well, at least a mouth prop is not a dental implant. I find the prop to be very discomforting. I wouldn’t say it causes an anxiety attack but it’s not fun either.

I usually get one of these things inserted into my mouth when I go to get my bite wing X-rays done. The props are used to keep my mouth open while the technician takes the pictures.

This has to be done twice, once for each side of the mouth. What I dislike the most is when she removes the prop from my mouth and then it’s got all this saliva on it. That’s their problem I suppose, but it kind of grosses me out.

Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum


Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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