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Over the Counter vs. Custom Night Guard: Which Is Right for You?

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Wearing a night guard while you sleep provides a solution to harmful teeth grinding, but which type of night guard is right for you? Over-the-counter and online products may be cheaper than a night guard fitted by your dentist, and the least expensive option is always tempting when your budget is tight. However, a custom night guard offers significant benefits that are worth considering before you make a decision.

Do You Need a Night Guard?

A night guard helps to prevent teeth damage and provides relief to those who grind their teeth in their sleep. Teeth grinding and clenching, also known as bruxism, is a painful, destructive and common condition. According to the American Sleep Association (ASA), grinding and clenching your teeth while you sleep can result in:

  • Fatigue
  • Face pain
  • Jaw soreness
  • Headaches when you wake up

The noise from nightly teeth grinding can also disturb your sleeping partner. What's more, regular teeth grinding wears away tooth enamel and can cause broken teeth and tooth loss.

The causes of bruxism aren't clear, but they may include anxiety, stress, crooked teeth, an abnormal bite, snoring, smoking, alcohol use, caffeine and sleep apnea, a medical condition in which the airway is obstructed during sleep.

Night Guard Types

If your dentist has confirmed that bruxism is the cause of your dental problems, the next step is to review which options may help to alleviate your symptoms. Your choices include an over-the-counter night guard from a pharmacy, a product from an online company or a custom night guard provided by your dentist.

As the ASA explains, there are two different types of over-the-counter night guards. The first is the one-size-fits-all variety. These products are designed to fit most mouth types. The second type is the boil-and-bite night guard, which you need to soften with heat and bite into to create a good fit with your teeth.

There are also online night guard providers that will have you send them dental impressions, which they'll use to create a more tailored product. However, these don't always fit perfectly.

To create the best-fitting custom night guard for your mouth, your dentist can take a professional impression of your teeth and send it to a laboratory, where the final product is made. Then, at your next dental appointment, they can confirm that it fits properly before you take the night guard home.

Pros and Cons of a Custom Night Guard

The types of night guards available differ in comfort, cost, safety and durability. Over-the-counter and online products are typically cheaper than custom night guards, but they're not made to fit your teeth perfectly, as the ASA explains. In addition, a study in the British Dental Journal notes that night guards purchased online are associated with tissue damage and teeth movement, and may even present a choking hazard. Getting a custom-fitted night guard from your dentist will provide the safest, most accurate fit since it is made specifically for your teeth.

Before deciding which type of night guard is best for you, discuss your options with your dentist. Then, you can feel confident about making the right choice for your dental needs.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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