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Occlusal Guard Information

Updated on October 22, 2014

Save Your Jaw with a Night Guard for Teeth Grinding

Not many people know what an occlusal guard is, but most could use one at some point in their lives. That's because most people grind their teeth at some point in their lives, and these devices - more commonly referred to as night guards - are the most effective treatment. They're a lot like the mouth guards worn by boxers and American football players - except instead of protecting your teeth from the jarring blows of a rough sport, they protect you from the damaging effects of nighttime teeth grinding.

A lot of dentists insist that only a custom-fitted night guard will cure a bout of bruxism (that's the technical term for teeth grinding). But guess what? These appliances can cost hundreds of dollars, and the cost isn't always covered by dental insurance. When I had a bruxism problem a few years ago, my dentist recommended an over-the-counter night guard. I picked up a cheapo one at Wal-Mart and it worked fine for me. Before spending a lot of money, you might want to try a mouth guard off the shelf. You don't have much to lose!

Why is This Happening to Me?

The Mysterious Causes of Teeth Grinding

When you get really frustrated and on edge, you tend to clench your jaw. The same impulse that causes you to do that probably also leads you to unconsciously grind your teeth when you're asleep. Therefore, for most people who grind their teeth, stress is the main culprit. I'm pretty sure this is what caused my own grinding, and indeed, when things calmed down and my life got a little less stressful, my bruxism disappeared as well.

Stress isn't the only cause, though. Certain medical conditions and medications can also lead to teeth grinding. And there are people who seem to do it for no reason at all (at least that we can understand).

If you and your dentist can identify the cause of your teeth grinding, you should work to eliminate that cause if you can (of course, in the case of stress, that's often a lot easier said than done). In any case, using an occlusal night guard - whether custom made or over the counter - will keep your teeth and jaw safe for as long as the problem lasts.

Moldable Night Guards

Soft Mouth Guards That Mold to Your Bite

The most common type of over the counter night guard is the soft one that conforms to your teeth, just like the mouth guards used for sports. Most often, you have to boil these mouth guards in hot water until they become really soft and malleable. In this spongy state, you can bite down on them and leave an impression with your teeth. After a few hours of cooling, you have yourself an occlusal guard that fits your mouth perfectly (well, depending on how careful you were throughout the process).

One downside of these night guards is that they tend to make you drool at night. Because they tend to be thick, you often can't swallow your saliva when sleeping, leading to a wet pillow in the morning (ewww).

These night guards are often very cheap.

Adjustable Mouth Guards

Use Sliders to Fit the Device to Your Mouth

Adjustable mouth guards tend to be harder and slimmer. They typically have some sort of slider to help fit the device securely in your mouth while you sleep. People who have trouble with bulky soft mouth guards often prefer these.

Adjustable guards are often a little more expensive than the boil and bite variety. Still, they're very affordable, especially considering they tend to last longer than soft mouth guards.

Mail Order Mouth Guards

Save by Ordering a Custom Night Guard Through the Mail

If you want the perfect fit of a custom made night guard without the heavy cost, you might want to look into ordering through a lab. Many of these labs are the same ones dentists order their night guards from. The only difference is that you make your own impressions at home using a kit rather than having your dentist do it. Of course, if your dentist is really cool, he or she might even help you take the impressions.

Mail order occlusal guards are more expensive than other over the counter options, but way cheaper than ordering through your dentist.

Man Sleeping (credit: MorgueFile.com)
Man Sleeping (credit: MorgueFile.com)

Sleeping with a Night Guard

It Takes Some Getting Used To

No matter what sort of occlusal (night) guard you choose, there's bound to be an adjustment period when you first start wearing it at night. Fortunately, most people get over whatever problems they have after a few days. There are a few things you can do to speed up the process, however.

The first and most problem you might face is simply getting to sleep with the device in your mouth (particularly if it's a squishy boil-and-bite mouth guard that's really hard to ignore). Becoming accustomed to the night guard will come naturally with time. However, you can help things along by inserting the mouth guard some time before you lay your head down to rest. If you read before turning your bedside lamp off, that's a perfect time to plug the mouth guard in. Having it in place 20 minutes before you turn the lights out gives your mind some time to get used to the sensation - so it's not focused on it when you need to be nodding off to sleep.

If you're using a bulky night guard, you might also find that you're drooling on your pillow at night. Or you may wake with dry mouth. This is because the appliance isn't allowing you to completely close your mouth at night. If this really bothers you, you might want to consider readjusting the mouth guard (clipping off extra material, for example) or simply trying a slimmer product.

Finally, it's common to experience some jaw discomfort in the morning after starting with a new mouth guard. In most cases, this goes away on its own as you break the mouth guard in. However, if you have severe or persistent pain, you should stop using the mouth guard immediately. This could be a matter of simply having the wrong product for you needs. However, if this is a recurring scenario, you may be one of those people who needs a professional, custom-fitted night guard. When in doubt, it's always a good idea to consult a dentist.

Ever have a problem with teeth grinding? What worked for you?

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    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 4 years ago

      Ha, so that's what these things are called. Think I need one. ;)