Having a healthy smile is most likely very important to you, which is why you're here. You've taken the necessary oral care steps like brushing and flossing daily and showing up for your dental check-ups at six-month intervals. But you may have some questions about whether a mouth guard could further improve your smile. Due to a sleeping or grinding issue, or because you play a sport, your dentist may recommend a mouth guard to keep your teeth's enamel strong. Let's go over if a mouth guard is right for you, the different kinds and how to care for them.
Mouth Guards: Everything You Need To Know
Do You Need a Mouth Guard?
Mouth guards are an excellent preventive tool for many types of situations that cause harm or injury to your teeth and gums. Even though our enamel, the outermost layer of our teeth, is stronger than bone, damage can occur in several ways. Your dental professional may recommend a mouth guard if you have specific sleep issues or grind your teeth, play sports, or suffer from temporomandibular disorders (TMD) problems.
Types of Mouth Guards
Mouth Guards for Grinding
Who hasn't woken up from a bad dream or a poor night's sleep to discover their jaw feels a little sore? When this becomes a regular occurrence, it may be time to speak with a dental professional about a night guard. Your dental professional may even notice your enamel showing signs of wear or see chips and cracks in your fillings. These are typically the first signs that you grind or clench your teeth at night.
Grinding or clenching, also known as bruxism, is often caused by stress, sleep disorders, a misaligned bite, acid reflux or some medication side effect. Smoking and drinking alcohol or caffeine beverages also increase the likelihood of grinding. While it can be challenging to diagnose the exact reason for grinding or clenching your teeth at night (who doesn't experience stress?), addressing the habit early on is vital. Long-term teeth grinding left untreated can wear your enamel down to your teeth's second layer, the softer dentine material.
Repairing broken fillings and making any necessary bite adjustments is the first step to treating grinding or clenching. After that, a dentist-recommended mouth guard (sometimes referred to as a night guard or splint) can be helpful to wear while you sleep. It acts as a barrier between your teeth, so your enamel doesn't wear down as you grind. Furthermore, it can even help you break the grinding habit itself!
Mouth Guards for TMD Problems
If you've ever experienced consistent jaw discomfort while chewing or noticed a loss of mobility when trying to open your mouth, you're not alone. Many people have temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems. Popping or clicking sounds accompanied by pain or dull headaches are also symptoms associated with a TMJ complication. While there's no way of knowing your TMJ disorder's exact cause, it usually stems from arthritis, genetics or jaw injuries.
The first line of treatment is wearing a custom-made mouth guard or splint at night. This allows your jaw muscles to recover while you sleep and protects your teeth from wearing down. Because of TMJ complexity, splints are always custom-made by the dental professional who is treating the problem.
Mouth Guards for Sports
Whether you're a weekend football player or your child just joined a hockey team, protecting your family's teeth from injury should be a top priority.
Most mouth-related sports injuries involve broken or chipped teeth (most often the central incisors), fractured tooth roots, and cuts to the lips and tissue inside of the mouth. But did you know that the risk of a sports injury is significantly reduced when wearing a well-fitting mouth guard? It is useful for preventing injuries during contact sports such as football, hockey, rugby, basketball, biking, karate and judo etc., according to the Singapore Dental Health Foundation.
The soft absorbing material that makes up mouth guards helps cushion a blow to your teeth. If you have braces, you're especially vulnerable to a sports-related issue. Soft tissue injuries from your braces coming in contact with your mouth tissue are reason enough to wear a mouth guard made to fit over your braces. And you don't want to run the risk of damaging your braces either, which would require attention from your dental professional.
Always check with a coach to determine their mouth guard requirements before making your dental appointment. Sports mouth guards are often replaced more than others as your child's mouth is still growing and the mouth guard will undergo natural wear and tear over a sports season. And don't forget to bring your mouth guard along for your six-month dental check-up. You'll be ahead of the game by taking this preventative measure of having a professional confirm that it still fits!
Mouth Guards for Sleep Disorders
It may seem strange that adding more things inside your mouth could help with sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnoea. But incorporating a mandibular advancement device into your nightly routine can be a beneficial tool for getting a better night's sleep. By wearing this mouth guard on the lower arch, the tongue and jaw reposition to keep the airway open. People who snore loudly or have night-time bruxism may also find that this device helps ease their symptoms.
Whatever diagnosis you've received for your mouth, a guard that fits well and is comfortable, durable and resistant to tearing will hopefully relieve any painful symptoms. There are three types of mouth guards to consider:
- You can find an inexpensive stock mouth guard online or at a pharmacy. These guards' sizes are usually limited to small, medium and large, so getting a good fit is a challenge. You may also find that they are uncomfortable and bulky or that even a properly fitted one can impede your breathing and speaking.
- A boil-and-bite mouth guard can be found online, at pharmacies and sporting goods stores. For this type of mouth guard, the fitting is up to you! You'll boil it in hot water and bite into it while warm to get a customised fit. This personalised fit is better than a stock mouth guard, but make sure to follow those directions.
- The most comfortable and effective type of teeth protection is a custom-made mouth guard from a dental professional. They can be expensive, but your dentist or dental insurance may provide some coverage to help with the cost.
How Your Dentist Makes a Mouth Guard
A custom-made mouth guard usually involves two appointments with your dental professional. They'll take impressions of your teeth and make a model, sending it to a laboratory where the mouth guard is fabricated for a custom fit. After your mouth guard comes back from the lab, your second appointment is to confirm it fits. Finally, your dental professional will file down any rough edges and make any necessary adjustments for that perfect shape and size, unique to you!
Sleeping With a Mouth Guard
At this point, you may have a concern about the distraction of sleeping with plastic in your mouth. Who wouldn't? Like anything new, it's a lesson in patience! To make wearing your mouth guard a nightly habit, you need to wear it consistently for at least a month. If you've tried wearing your mouth guard, but it's just too uncomfortable or doesn't fit correctly, don't be shy about letting your dental professional know. They can check the problem, fix it, and help you get back on the road to regular wear.
Caring for Your Mouth Guard
Just like you clean your teeth every day to remove bacteria, it should be no surprise that you'll need to clean and sanitise your mouth guard after wearing it. It would help if you brushed your guard with a toothbrush and toothpaste after wearing it. Rinse it well, and take time once every week or two to soak it in an antimicrobial solution, such as diluted mouthwash or denture cleaner. Make sure it's dry and store it in a ventilated case. Look for any cracks or rough edges so you won't have a mouth guard that irritates your gums or stores bacteria.
Before you decide whether a mouth guard is the answer to your particular dental problem, be sure to consult a professional. We all hope that brushing and interdental cleaning of our teeth every day is enough to keep our mouths healthy. But unexpected, yet common issues like TMD, sleep apnoea and bruxism often come into play. And since you're already so dedicated to your oral health, you know that prevention is the key. Making the commitment and conscious effort to wear your mouth guard regularly will be crucial to keeping your enamel strong and your smile confident!