Sleeping with a night guard is like having insurance for your teeth. Depending on the type of mouthguard or night guard you’re wearing, it can prevent, protect, or even help treat certain conditions. The modest price tag of a splint or guard is typically well worth it, considering what could happen if you weren’t sleeping with a mouth guard at all.
But not all mouthguards, bite splints, or night guards are created equal. Nor do they serve the same purpose. Depending on how it’s made and the way it fits, these appliance designs can play completely different roles. Some might even make things worse if you don’t use them correctly. Choosing the wrong one is a mistake you want to avoid.
Night guards are one of the most common types of oral appliances. Sleeping with a mouth guard or splint is usually recommended if you’re someone who clenches and grinds your teeth (we call this condition “bruxism.”) They’re meant to help protect your teeth, gums, tongue, TMJ, and surrounding muscles from unnecessary tension.
Even though tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the entire human body, it’s no match against itself. Tooth-on-tooth grinding and clenching will wear your teeth down like nothing else. As a result, you can easily develop:
A quality night guard could essentially save you thousands of dollars in avoidable dental work.
Repeat after me, “Not all night guards or mouthguards are created equal.” Essentially, you have two different categories to pick from: stock-made over-the-counter (OTC) devices, and those that are custom-fitted by your dentist. They are not the same thing, nor are they equal when it comes to fit, comfort, and protection. While a commercially manufactured OTC guard might offer some benefits, they won’t be the same as one you get from your dentist. It is important to find the right fit and price for your night guard.
Over-the-counter dental night guards are easy to come by. You can find them at practically any drug store, supermarket, or online retailer. These are a “one size fits some” or “one size fits most” type of device.
OTC mouthguards do offer protection between your teeth. The downside is their bulky, loosely-fitted design makes them more prone to falling out or too uncomfortable to sleep with. Some of them might even start to hurt your jaw/TMJ because of the way they position your teeth. Although some designs allow you to semi-personalize the way they fit (such as boiling the appliance then trying to shape the softer plastic to your mouth) they will only adjust to a small extent.
But OTC night guards are better than nothing. Some people start out with a commercial stock night guard before deciding to invest in a professional one with their dentist. Even if there’s a slight amount of improvement, chances are you’ll see far better results with a custom design.
Professionally fitted night guards are custom molded to your teeth. A custom night guard requires a mold of your mouth so that the acrylic material can be melted directly on top of a replica of your teeth. This process ensures a snug fit right from the start. This design provides a custom-fit approach that is both comfortable and secure while providing the highest level of protection.
Depending on why you need a night guard, custom night guard designs will vary. Some cover all of your upper and lower teeth. Others may be smaller splints, that only cover a few teeth. And then there are sleep night guards that use both upper and lower guards, to position the way your jaws fit together while you’re sleeping.
Related: 6 Best Custom Night Guards
Custom mouthguards are made of quality acrylics that offer the highest level of protection from teeth grinding or clenching. They last much longer than OTC materials. If you’re a heavy grinder, your dentist may want to adjust the thickness and type of acrylic materials that are used.
Think of it this way. It’s like having your optometrist fit you with a pair of prescription glasses, vs. buying a pair of generic readers off a rack at the drugstore. Both of them might improve your current situation, but one of them (the OTC option) may not work as well or could even make the situation worse.
Sleeping with a dental guard isn’t for everyone. Keep in mind that night guards and night guards can be designed a variety of different ways. They don’t all do the same thing. In fact, some of them can actually aggravate other situations where you might wear a dental night guard if you’re using it incorrectly.
But if you do fit one of the following categories, a custom-fitted night guard is highly recommended. Be sure to speak with your dentist if you have concerns about any of these common issues:
Grinding your teeth together is a major concern, because it can cause all sorts of problems. From broken teeth to migraines, nothing will wear your smile out faster than teeth grinding does.
Most people who grind their teeth will also clench them. We use the term “bruxism” to describe it when someone is grinding and clenching together on a frequent basis.
Think about it this way, if clenching your teeth does that much damage to your teeth, imagine what it’s doing to your joint and muscles surrounding your mouth. It affects your entire head and neck, and even your shoulders and upper back. All of that muscle tension and joint pain is originating at your mouth.
If your dentist suspects that you’re grinding your teeth, you will definitely need to start sleeping with a night guard. Grinding can be subconscious and due to things like sleep apnea, taking certain medications, or stress. Having an extra layer of protection over your teeth will prevent the side-effects of grinding while you try to tackle the other issues that life is throwing your way.
A lot of the time, clenching and teeth grinding go hand in hand. But not always. Some people specifically clench their teeth but don’t grind them together. Clenching is typically something that we do subconsciously when we are stressed or focusing on something. Like grinding, it can lead to broken teeth.
For example, you might clench your teeth more in the daytime while you’re dealing with a difficult client, driving home from work, or if you’re getting in a really tough workout at the gym. Or you might clench your teeth when you’re sleeping, because of all the stress in your life.
We can’t always get rid of stress. But we can be mindful of what our mouths are doing. If daytime clenching is a problem, a bite splint—along with conscious awareness—is a great way to prevent tooth damage. But sleeping in a mouth guard may also be a necessity.
Jaw pain, migraines, joint clicking, popping, headaches, and limited range of motion are all symptoms of TMJ disorder. TMD can be caused by a variety of issues ranging from tooth misalignment to clenching to joint overuse from chewing gum all day long.
Most TMJ night guards will look similar to what you would wear for sleep bruxism, teeth grinding or clenching, depending on what’s offered by your dentist’s office. But additional therapies could also be beneficial, such as Botox injections, orthodontic therapy, and massage.
Oral sleep appliances for mild sleep apnea are what we call “mandibular advancement devices.” They are FDA-approved, medical-grade, prescription devices that reposition your jaw and tissues to accommodate better airflow. They must be prescribed by a specialist, then fitted by a trained sleep dentist. An overnight or home sleep study is required. Usually, you’ll need to have the device calibrated and adjusted by your dentist to get full results.
Snoring and sleep apnea are not directly related to one another. You can have one without the other, or both (as some types of sleep apnea may cause snoring). But wearing a “snore guard” or night guard for snoring will help manage your symptoms similar to the way one for sleep apnea works.
The goal of a snoring night guard is to prevent the soft tissues at the back of your throat from vibrating against each other. Since the appliance opens up your airway and repositions your jaw, it physically reduces the likelihood that any snoring noises will occur. You might even see results on the first night. Your family will thank you!
Let’s say on top of everything else, you’re also in braces. What then? Well, here’s where things get a little tricky. You still need the benefit of a night guard, but your brackets and wires will get in the way.
Being that you’re only going to be in braces for, let’s say, a year or two tops, your dentist might actually recommend a modified professional night guard or just temporarily using an over-the-counter version. Since OTC night guards have a lot of extra space (to fit a wider range of mouth sizes) they’ll probably fit around your braces, too.
If you need a mouth guard for something like sleep apnea, though, your dentist will still need to fit you with a custom appliance. Especially if you are using it to replace a CPAP machine.
Practice, practice, practice. It’s like wearing anything new for the first time. If you’ve ever had to break in a new pair of shoes, get used to a new piece of sports equipment, or fit into a tight pair of jeans, you know what I’m talking about. At first, it’s weird, cumbersome, or might even be a little annoying. But with a little practice and repetition, it becomes second nature.
If you’ve ever worn orthodontic aligners (such as Invisalign) or a bleaching tray, making the shift to sleeping with a mouth guard is fairly easy. Just be patient with yourself. The first night you might find that it’s a little more difficult to go to sleep having something new in your mouth. Maybe you only wear it for a few hours the first night or two, you’ll be completely fine wearing it full time thereafter.
Within a few days, you should be good to go! Patience, practice, and time are all that it takes. But if for some reason something hurts—and it shouldn’t—be sure to go back to your dentist to have your mouthguard adjusted.
As with any other dental appliance, whether it’s dentures, orthodontic aligners, or something else, you need to keep your dental night guard clean. Otherwise, it will gradually accumulate buildup across it, which can cause bad breath or some type of an oral infection.
Follow these easy steps to clean your removable oral appliances:
As needed, soak your night guard in an effervescent denture cleaning solution to loosen any buildup. Brush and rinse it clean afterward.
Sleeping with a night guard helps you avoid or limit issues such as jaw pain, worn dental work, broken teeth, headaches, and sleep apnea. The key is to wear an appliance that’s fitted by your dentist and always use it as directed. Even if you don’t have dental insurance, these modestly-priced dental appliances could save you hundreds to thousands of dollars in unnecessary dental treatment a few years down the road. So, if you grind your teeth, have sleep apnea, or get a lot of a headaches, definitely talk to your dental provider about being fitted for a splint or night guard.
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