How do Dental Night Guards Work?

Dental night guards are routinely prescribed to patients who habitually grind their teeth (a condition known as “bruxism”), particularly during sleep. The human jaw is capable of emitting tremendous force on the opposing teeth, forces which can easily deteriorate teeth if left unprotected. Dental night guards are designed to help prevent the damage caused by tooth grinding. The reason guards are typically worn at night is two-fold: first, most people grind their teeth subconsciously in their sleep and second, wearing a dental guard is simply not practical during the day. Since sleeping represents a large amount of a person’s life, protecting the teeth during this time can go a long way in sparing them from the damaging forces of bruxism.

It is important to realize that dental night guards do not prevent the act of grinding itself, they simply protect from the adverse affects of grinding. Night guards help disperse the forces of grinding and prevent the teeth from touching one another, thus slowing down the rate at which teeth are worn down. There are, in essence, two types of night guards.

Over-the-Counter Night Guards

OTC night guards can be bought at drugstores and are relatively inexpensive. These devices are made to fit the mouth by placing them in boiling water, causing them to soften. At this point, the guard is placed in the mouth and gently bit into—resulting in a mold of the patient’s teeth. The downside of OTC night guards is that they are bulky and can be difficult to wear. They may not also achieve a perfect fit to the teeth, and are more likely to have holes worn in them rather quickly.

Custom-Made Night Guards

Custom night guards are those that are fabricated by your dentist. The process consists of having impressions made of your teeth, at which point they are sent to a dental laboratory that will fabricate a customized dental night guard for you. The advantage of this type of night guard is that it is smaller, slimmer, has a better fit, and is all around easier to wear. These types of night guards are also generally very strong and can last for many years.

If you feel that you are grinding your teeth, especially at night, talk to your dentist about what kind of dental night guard might be right for you.

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Melina has written for several journals and is a non practicing dentist.

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