The health benefits of a good night’s sleep are becoming increasingly well known. The more that scientific research reveals about the importance of deep, restorative sleep, the more we do to try to achieve it — from investing in high-quality mattresses and supportive pillows to practicing “sleep hygiene,” which includes saying good-night to the smartphone at least a half-hour before bedtime.
However, if you unconsciously grind your teeth in your sleep, you’re not only being deprived of quality sleep, you’re damaging your teeth and your overall health. Most people are unaware they grind their teeth until their dentist notices the signs and symptoms — or their sleep partner tells them! The typical intervention a dentist recommends to alleviate this condition is a night guard. But not all night guards are of equal quality and effectiveness. Knowing the differences will help you make an informed choice to best prevent the destructive effects of bruxism.
What Is Bruxism?
Bruxism is the medical term for grinding or clenching your teeth and jaws. Grinding refers to moving the jaw back and forth. Clenching refers to biting down with excessive force for long periods of time. Bruxism is a common condition and usually occurs during sleep or times of stress. According to Business Insider, about 10% of Americans grind their teeth at night.
Although a common condition, bruxism has several negative long-term effects on your dental and physical health. According to Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms of bruxism may include the following:
- Teeth grinding or clenching, which may be loud enough to wake up your sleep partner.
- Teeth that are flattened, fractured, chipped or loose.
- Worn tooth enamel, exposing deeper layers of your tooth.
- Increased tooth pain or sensitivity.
- Tired or tight jaw muscles, or a locked jaw that won’t open or close completely.
- Jaw, neck or face pain or soreness.
- Pain that feels like an earache, though it’s actually not a problem with your ear.
- Dull headache starting in the temples.
- Damage from chewing on the inside of your cheek.
- Sleep disruption.
However, even if you don’t feel any pain or discomfort, the damage is still being done. Our blog post — “What Causes Bruxism and Can It Be Fixed?” — covers this condition in detail, and how to help relieve it.
How a Night Guard Protects Your Teeth
A night guard works by putting a barrier between your teeth. When you clench your jaw, the night guard helps to lighten the tension and give cushion to the jaw muscles. This cushioning not only helps to prevent face and jaw pain, but also protects the enamel of your teeth. Depending upon your individual situation, your dentist may recommend either a night guard for your upper teeth — which is the most typical — or lower. Most dentists agree that there is no need to wear two night guards, as doing so provides no additional benefit except in rare cases — for example, adjusting the jaw to prevent snoring-induced grinding.
Different Types of Night Guards — Which is Right for You?
Several types of night guards are available. If your dentist is the one who makes the diagnosis of bruxism, this is the time to discuss your treatment options. Some cases are relatively mild, others severe. The following – provided courtesy of American Sleep Association (ASA) – can help you ask informed questions about which type will provide the optimum result for your individual situation.
Soft Night Guard
This is the most commonly used type of night guard for teeth to treat bruxism and used mostly for mild or occasional cases, not for severe teeth grinders.
- Most comfortable fit of all the night guards.
- Most adaptable/easy to get used to.
- Usually lower cost.
- Some people unintentionally clench on to or chew the soft material.
- Not as durable/limited lifespan.
- Most warranties are only six months or less due to the limited lifespan.
- Not a long-term solution.
Dual Laminate Night Guard
This type of night guard for teeth to treat bruxism is for moderately severe teeth grinders. They are soft on the inside and hard on the outside.
- Handles heavy clenching and grinding.
- Usually offers a longer warranty than soft guards.
- Tend to be a little thicker than the other guards.
- Seems to be harder to adjust to.
Hard Night Guard
Hard night guards for teeth to treat bruxism are made from acrylic and are extremely rigid but durable. They can be used for very severe cases of grinding, as well as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
- Most durable.
- Prevents teeth from shifting.
- Usually offers the longest warranty.
- Thicker than soft night guards.
- More uncomfortable than others.
- Difficult to get used to sleeping in.
- Can be more expensive than the others.
Also for each type of night guard material, there are different types of night guards:
Boil and bite – Sold over the counter at drugstores, supermarkets and other retailers, this type consists of a soft plastic material heated in a microwave oven or on a stovetop. Once heated according to manufacturer’s instructions, the material molds over your teeth for a self-impression, thus creating the night guard. However, they don’t fit everyone’s mouth, and may not accommodate people with unusually shaped teeth or missing teeth. These over-the-counter night guards may also cause your teeth to shift.
Lab-direct – With this solution, you order a kit online from a dental lab, take your own impression, then send it back to the lab, which fashions the appliance and sends to you. While this solution is often positioned by such labs as more economical than a custom night guard ordered by your dentist, it isn’t inexpensive, and has potential drawbacks. As we covered in our blog post — “Are Online Teeth Aligners Safe?” — the situation is similar. Taking an impression of your teeth yourself isn’t as easy as online labs may claim. Even dentists and experienced dental technicians often need to retake impressions. Whether taken for night guards, aligners or restorations such as bridges and crowns, making dental impressions is a skill for a professional, and needs to be performed in a dental office — not by the patient at home.
Custom-ordered – This type of night guard is ordered by your dentist after discussing the degree of your bruxism and treatment options. The impression is taken in-office by the dentist or dental technician, and sent to the lab. It provides the best fit and has the longest life. One important advantage seldom mentioned is that the lab to which the dentist sends the impression is the same lab the dentist trusts to fashion dental restorations for every patient. Having a relationship with a trusted, proven lab — as opposed to the patient finding one online — provides another layer of quality control.
Tips to Help Adjust to Night Guards for Teeth
- Use it every night. You’ll be aware of it at first, but should become used to it after four to six weeks. After this amount of time, it should feel like a normal part of your routine and will seem easier to wear.
- Put it in right before you go to bed. Don’t try to wear it sooner, as it will feel uncomfortable.
How to Take Care of Your Night Guard
Your night guard needs daily cleaning to keep it free of bacteria that can be transferred back into your mouth during use. Follow your dentist’s instructions if you choose to have a custom night guard made, or manufacturer’s instructions for an over-the-counter or lab-direct brand. However, the basic steps apply:
- Wash immediately after removing from your mouth. This will prevent bacterial growth. Gently brush with a soft-bristle toothbrush under cool-to-warm water. Use a non-abrasive toothpaste, antibacterial soap or mild dish detergent. Use a separate toothbrush for cleaning purposes to prevent cross-contamination.
- Dry it out completely. Shake off excess water and lay flat on a smooth surface. Air-dry in a non-humid environment. It should dry in 15 to 30 minutes.
- Store in a case. After the night guard is dry, place it in its case for safekeeping. Tip: Keep it in your bedroom rather than the bathroom. Areas with high humidity could wear it down faster.
The Take-Home Message
Bruxism is an insidious condition that the patient typically is unaware of, but gradually wears down tooth enamel and causes numerous other oral and general health issues. Wearing a night guard is a proven solution for preventing the damaging effects of bruxism. Determining the type of night guard most beneficial to treating your individual situation should be a discussion between you and your dentist.
At NK Family Dental, it is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including both dental and periodontal services. Our practice is trusted for advanced oral surgery procedures and comfortable root canal treatment.
Our team of experienced, dedicated dental professionals will help address your oral health concerns, and determine the best solution for you based on your individual situation. We strive to identify treatment options that fit your needs. Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our endodontist, Dr. Sabek, and our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh. Dr. Danesh is a board-certified periodontist and Diplomat of the American Board of Periodontology. He has contributed to the publication of two books, as well as published over 20 papers in prestigious dental research journals.
We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.