A night guard is a dental appliance prescribed to treat teeth grinding.  Bruxism, or teeth grinding, is when the upper and lower teeth undergo heavy chewing forces against each. And as such, you may wake up in the morning with headaches, teeth pain, and/or sore jaw.

What is a Night guard?

A night guard is a small acrylic appliance that conforms to the shape of your teeth.  They typically fit over your upper teeth and are U-shaped.  It is typically made of a clear hard acrylic material.   On select guards the inner surface there may be a soft layer to increase patient comfort.  There is also a thermoplastic material that becomes soft under warm water and becomes rigid as the material cools, further enhancing ease of tooth insertion and comfort.

Signs You may Need a Night guard

What are some indications that you may need a dental night guard (also called occlusal splint and bite guard)?  Bruxism and TMD (temporomandibular joint disorders) are common indications for such need.  With bruxism and TMJ discomfort, some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Waking up with a sore and tired jaw and headache, which may suggest nocturnal bruxism, or night time teeth grinding.  It is believed that stress from intermittent life events may cause bruxism.
  • Generalized wearing down/flattening of your teeth, especially the canines, incisors, and premolars
  • Generalized worn tooth areas along the root surface of the teeth adjacent to the cheek
  • Teeth that are being repeatedly chipped, fractured, and breaking off.

Other indications that you may benefit from a night guard include:

  • Moderate to severe periodontal disease with mobile/moving teeth
  • You have numerous crowns, veneers, and implants and would like something cost effective to protect the porcelain.

Why do you need to wear a night guard?

  • Help prevent damage to your teeth and crowns.  If you suffer from bruxism and grind your teeth at night or even clench your teeth during the daytime, the constant biting pressure on your teeth can cause it to chip, fracture, or even break off completely.  Over time, the teeth may flatten and the grinding may cause tooth damage, exposing the root surface along with gum recession.  By wearing a night guard, your upper and lower teeth are protected from excessive trauma.
  • Decrease jaw and teeth pain and to improve discomfort.  Teeth grinding during the night may also cause teeth pain and headaches in the morning when you wake up.  Wearing a nightguard may help relieve the pain caused the constant forces against your teeth.
  • Help control periodontal disease.  If you have moderate to severe periodontal and gum disease, you teeth may have bone loss.  A night guard may help stabilize your teeth by protecting teeth from excessive forces that may cause mobility.
  • Help treat TMJ disorders.  Teeth grinding may also cause TMJ disorders, which can be difficult to treat. Typical signs and symptoms include sore jaw and headaches in the morning when you wake up, and may eventually lead to facial, neck, and shoulder pain.  If TMJ disorders worsen, this may cause limited jaw opening and extremely severe jaw pain.

How are night guards made?

An in-office night guard is custom made to conform to your teeth.  Your dentist will first take impressions (aglinate models) of your upper and lower teeth.  These impressions are then poured into a model, which are then sent to a dental lab.  The lab will custom fabricate the nightguard that conforms to your upper or lower teeth.  The guard’s outer surface is made out of a hard, rigid, heat cured acrylic resin.  The occlusal splint generally covers the maxillary dentition, though it may also cover the mandibular dentition.  The splint may also be full or partial coverage.

This hard arcylic material allows you to reduce the pressure on your teeth caused by the tension of your TMJ; hence it decreases your TMJ and jaw’s muscle tension and fatigue.  The result is your jaw is less tired, and there is less stress on your teeth.

Your dentist may also be able to line the inner surface of the occlusal splint with a soft flexible material for increased comfort.

There are night guards that you may be to purchase at the local pharmacy. However, these night guards are not custom made to your dentition and in general have a soft rubbery exterior.  The result is that your jaw would tend to “chew” these gummy like material, further increasing jaw discomfort and pain.

How do I take care of the night guard?

A good way to take care of the night guard is to brush it daily when one brush their teeth.  Brush the inside and outside surfaces of the night guard with a small amount of toothpaste with a soft tooth brush soaked in water.  Brushing the guard helps remove bacteria and plaque that may have accumulated over time.  One may also soak the guard in a denture cleanser.  Afterwards store the night guard in a dry area away from pets.  One can also bring their night guard to their dentist during their checkup and cleaning appointment to have it cleaned and evaluated for excessive wear patterns.

Will the night guard last forever?

Used and cared for properly, this appliance should last many years.  How long the guard will last depends on the severity of the grinding.  People with extreme grinding habits with excessively strong biting forces may cause premature wear of the night guard and may even cause it crack within 6-12 months; at this point a new occlusal guard may need to be made.  For most people, the guard can easily last for a few years with proper care.

If you have any questions about dental night guards, be sure to contact your local Bellevue dentist at (425) 614-1600.

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