If you wake up tired or headachy or experiencing jaw or facial pain, you may be clenching or grinding your teeth while you sleep. To reduce your chance of developing these symptoms and damaging your teeth, an occlusal guard could be just what you need. Dentists provide occlusal guards to help protect patients from the effects of teeth clenching and grinding.
Symptoms of Teeth Grinding or Clenching
Teeth grinding or clenching is also called bruxism, and the condition affects the teeth, the jaw and the muscles of the face and neck. The Mayo Clinic lists the major symptoms of bruxism as jaw soreness, dull headaches upon waking, facial pain and overall fatigue due to disrupted sleep. Grinding can have negative effects on the teeth, including loss of tooth enamel, broken teeth and the loss of the teeth themselves.
Types of Occlusal Guards
Occlusal guards are also called night guards, dental guards, bite splints, mouth guards and nocturnal bite plates. These dental devices cover the teeth and provide a barrier that protects them during clenching or grinding.
Different types of guards are available based on a patient's needs. Soft occlusal guards are relatively inexpensive and comfortable to wear, but they wear out more quickly than harder guards. Hard occlusal guards are more expensive and more rigid, but also more durable. Patients may take longer to become accustomed to wearing hard guards. However, a hard occlusal guard may be the best choice in cases of severe teeth grinding.
An occlusal guard must fit snugly over the patient's teeth. A dental professional makes molds of the teeth and sends them to a laboratory where the guards are manufactured. Alternatively, you can purchase over-the-counter guards that you boil and cool for a short time before biting into them to make the molds. A professionally made night guard is more expensive, but it will fit better than an over-the-counter product.
Caring for an Occlusal Guard
An occlusal guard is worn while you sleep, which is when you clench or grind your teeth. The best time to put the guard into your mouth is just before you go to sleep. You can take it out when you wake up. After wearing your guard for four to six weeks, it should feel comfortable.
An occlusal guard that isn't cleaned every day can quickly become colonized by bacteria. The Cleveland Clinic advises patients to clean their guards before and after each wear. Rinse your mouth guard with clean, cool water or brush it with a toothbrush and toothpaste. Don't leave an occlusal guard in a sunny spot or near direct heat — and don't wash it with hot water — because the guard could warp and no longer fit properly. Keep the mouth guard in a container and check it regularly for wear. If you find that your guard feels loose or uncomfortable, it's probably time for a replacement.
Though teeth clenching or grinding is a common habit, the symptoms can be painful and cause permanent dental damage. Wearing an occlusal guard can take some getting used to, but the benefits are worth the effort. Speak to a dentist if you think you may grind your teeth and find out if an occlusal guard can help you keep your teeth strong and healthy.