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What is a Dental Night Guard?

By M. DePietro
Updated Feb 22, 2024
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Bruxism, which includes jaw clenching and teeth grinding, is a very common condition, which affects both adults and young children. Although teeth grinding can occur during the daytime, it most commonly occurs during sleep. Some dentists treat the condition with a dental night guard, worn over either the lower or upper teeth to create a cushion between the teeth to prevent grinding.

Teeth grinding may occur due to stress, or in children, due to the development of teeth. In both adults and kids the jaw muscles tighten and the lower and upper teeth slide repeatedly, or grind over each other. The problems associated with the condition include, jaw and ear pain, including damage to the jaw joint, headache and damage to the teeth.

There are a few materials that a dental night guard can be made from, including plastic and acrylic. Both materials work, although acrylic guards tend to be less flexible and may stay in place better, preventing grinding moe effectively. However, they are often more expensive than a plastic guard.

Although a dental night guard can be purchased over-the-counter, some guards cannot be custom fitted and may not be as effective. Because the guard is not fit specifically for an individual's mouth, it may also be uncomfortable. Most dentists do not recommend this type of guard.

Dental night guards which are made to be custom fitted at home are also sold at drugstores and online. They are usually made of plastic. The guard is placed in boiling water to make it moldable. As soon as it cools to avoid burning the mouth, an individual places it onto his upper or lower teeth and leaves it there for a few minutes. As it cools, the device molds itself into the shape of the person’s teeth.

In order to get the best fit for a night guard, most dentists recommend having a night guard fitted by a dentist. The dentist will take an impression of the patient's teeth and a guard will be created to custom fit the individual's teeth. Children may need to get a new mold made periodically due to growth in the mouth.

For the dental night guard to help reduce problems associated with teeth grinding, it’s important to wear it every night. Some people may eventually stop grinding their teeth overtime and the device won’t be needed. Children especially tend to outgrow teeth grinding. To maintain the device, it should be cleaned every time it’s used by brushing it with toothpaste and rinsing completely.

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Discussion Comments
By anon984465 — On Jan 08, 2015

Can I just say that "custom fitted at home" is not custom to your teeth. It's still going to be a far stretch (in terms of fit and comfort) from a true custom made dental night guard (made from your dentist or a dental lab). I have been wearing a night guard for years. I chew through them every two years or so.

My insurance wouldn't cover it and I was lucky enough to find an internet dental lab that sends out a do-it yourself impression kit. Now that they have my stone mold I just call them up to get them remade when I need them. I pay less than $150 and the fit is just as good as the ones I was paying an arm and a leg for at the dentist.

By rjh — On May 26, 2011

Another thing you can try is holding a warm, damp cloth next to your face or 10 minutes before you go to bed. The warmth of the cloth will relax and loosen up your jaw muscles. I also can’t emphasize enough the importance of cutting down on caffeine; when I switched from coffee to chamomile tea I noticed results instantly.

These are just some things my dentist suggested I try; I told him I sometimes I wake up with a sore jaw and a headache and he said it was most likely caused by teeth grinding, but my teeth appeared to be in good enough condition not to require a night guard yet. I think it’s important to see your dentist as soon as any of these symptoms of teeth grinding pop up before you damage your teeth and then a night guard might not be necessary.

By Sequoia — On May 23, 2011

@softener - The best thing to do would be to see a dentist and they’ll be able to tell straight away just by looking at your teeth. Jaw pain isn’t uncommon in people who grind their teeth, that’s what made me go to the dentist. I wear a dental night mouth guard now; it feels kind of uncomfortable at first but if you’re grinding your teeth it’s important to wear one. Get it checked out.

By softener — On May 22, 2011

How can I tell whether I’m grinding my teeth at night or not? Sometimes I wake up and my jaw feels sore but my teeth seem to be in good condition and I don’t get toothaches or anything like that.

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