An occlusal guard is a horseshoe shaped piece of plastic which is worn over the teeth to protect them against damage caused by clenching or grinding. It works by creating a physical barrier between your upper and lower teeth so that you bite against the plastic rather than wearing down your teeth. Most people are unaware that they grind (also called bruxism) or clench their teeth as it usually happens when they are sleeping. It is often a person’s partner who first notices that they are grinding their teeth. People tend to go through phases of grinding their teeth, such as during times of stress. It is during these times that you may need to wear an occlusal night guard to prevent doing permanent damage to your teeth.
WHO NEEDS AN OCCLUSAL GUARD?
If you wake up and do not feel rested, you have a headache or a toothache, or you have jaw joint pain, or if during a routine dental examination your dentist notices that your teeth have been ground down to a more flattened surface than should be normal, you may be prescribed an occlusal guard. Oftentimes, your teeth may start loosening and you will feel pain in your gums because of clenching your teeth too much.
Many people with these symptoms will avoid ordering a guard due to the price. A custom fit occlusal guard prescribed by your dentist could cost several hundred dollars. These guards do not treat the problems, but they are a preventative measure against more serious problems caused by long-term teeth grinding. If these symptoms are left unchecked and continue too long without being taken care of, more dental problems, such a fractured teeth and tooth loss, will likely occur and will be much more costly in the long run.
HOW DO OCCLUSAL GUARDS WORK?
The purpose of the occlusal guard is to prevent further tooth damage due to clenching and grinding of the teeth. It also helps to prevent more wear on the surface of the teeth. The guards help relax the jaws which in the process lessen teeth grinding and clenching and therefore protects the jaw from joint problems that could eventually occur.
When a dentist prescribes and occlusal guard, it will usually take two visits for the patient to receive the finished product. A mold is made of the patient’s mouth, either all the teeth on both the top and bottom or just one or the other. This mold is then sent to a lab that will make the guards to custom fit the teeth. The second visit is for the dentist to check the fitting of the guard that was made and to explain how to wear it and how to take care of it.
The majority of people that need to use the occlusal guard only need to wear the upper guard, also called a maxillary guard. A few people will be given the lower guard, or mandibular guard. By wearing an occlusal guard, it will prevent further surface damage on teeth; lessen gum problems, release jaw tension and it will help keep teeth strong.
Sometimes it may take several weeks of wearing the occlusal guard before they feel totally comfortable to wear. After that, most users find they cannot sleep without them.
What Is An Occlusal Guard Made Of?
An occlusal guard is made of clear acrylic. It may be either soft or hard acrylic depending on what your dentist recommends. As it is only made of plastic, your occlusal guard may become cloudy and discolor over time, but this does not affect the functionality of the night guard. Occlusal guards can be made for either the upper or lower teeth.
Taking Care Of Your Occlusal Guard
When wearing your occlusal guard do not eat or drink anything other than water as this may discolor it. After removing your occlusal guard in the morning, brush it with your toothbrush and rinse with cold water. It is best not to use toothpaste to clean it as toothpaste is abrasive and may scratch the surface of the occlusal guard and make it appear cloudy. Also, never rinse your occlusal guard with hot water as this can distort the shape and cause it to no longer fit.