Mouth guards – also known as night guards or sports guards – are designed to protect the teeth and jaw from damage. They are recommended by dentists for individuals of all ages who are at a higher risk for developing oral health problems due to grinding of the teeth, bite obstructions and impact sustained from contact sports. There are many types of dental guards, each of which are customized to fit the patient’s needs.
Individuals who suffer from bruxism, or teeth grinding, find that a night guard can help achieve a better quality of sleep, as well as prevent sore and tense muscles around the jaw from constant biting during the night. A night guard can also protect the teeth from wearing down due to grinding and pressure, which could otherwise cause thinning of the enamel and even make the teeth more prone to decay over time.
For TMJ patients, dentists utilize night guards as a means for helping correct the condition and also for alleviating TMJ pain and symptoms. With regular use of a night guard, TMJ sufferers can experience fewer TMJ-related headaches, less clenching, less popping and clicking of the jaw, fewer toothaches and less ringing in the ears.
Sports accidents are common, and a bite guard is especially beneficial to athletes who participate in high-contact activities. It is not uncommon to hear of athletes who have sustained serious damage to the teeth and tissues of the mouth that could have been easily prevented or minimized by a mouth guard. Football, hockey, soccer and basketball are examples of just a few high-risk sports in which participants should wear mouth protection.
As an added benefit, bite guards are generally composed of materials that are naturally absorptive to force, meaning the guards not only protect the teeth, but may also lessen the force to the entire skull and brain should the wearer suffer an injury.
Although night guards are available over the counter at drug stores and other retailers, there is an advantage to getting a customized night or bite guard from a dentist. Professional dental guards provide the most accurate fit, because the dentist uses an impression of the patient’s teeth and natural bite, from which a laboratory constructs a custom guard. Without the accurate fit that a professional night or sports guard provides, the guard can become loose or even fall out of the mouth.
On the other hand, bypassing a professional dental guard fitting and customization can lead to even more problems in the future. Individuals who purchase an over-the-counter dental guard that is improperly fitted often find that they develop even more pain or complications with prolonged usage. These guards are also typically made of inferior materials than professional guards, meaning they need to be replaced more often.
Should you decide to be fitted for a professional dental guard, your dentist will analyze your particular mouth guard needs and make a recommendation for either a hard or soft material based on a professional analysis. He or she can pinpoint targeted support areas for a better bite adjustment that will not leave the muscles and tissues in and around your jaw feeling sore or inflamed. Additionally, with the professional supervision and oversight that a dentist provides, you can quickly identify whether adjustments need to be made to your night or sports guard over time.
In order to get the most effective use of a night or sports guard, proper care is essential. The guard must be thoroughly cleaned with cool, soapy water after each use, as well as regularly inspected for tears, holes or other wear. Furthermore, a dentist should inspect the mouth guard at each exam or teeth cleaning to ensure it is still providing proper protection.