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Can a Night Guard Shift Your Teeth?

9 min read
by JS Dental Lab |

If you’re considering getting a night guard or already have one, you probably know it’s not a retainer. 

Since you can’t use it to shift your teeth back in place purposely, you would assume your current teeth alignment will stay as-is.

But then you read some reviews where users complain about teeth movement. Or, you try your night guard for a while, and you feel like your smile looks a bit different. 

You wonder, is my night guard shifting my teeth?

The answer is yes, it is possible — if you’re not using the right oral appliance. 

So how do you know if your night guard is messing with your bite? 

How do you prevent it from happening? 

This guide will walk you through the details so you can use your night guard for its intended purpose, not as an accidental teeth shifter. 

Note: JS Dental is a provider of night guards, specially fitted dental appliances worn overnight to prevent or reduce teeth grinding. Mouth guards usually refer to sporting mouth guards, but they are often used interchangeably. In this article, when we say mouth guard, we are really referring to the night guard for teeth grinding and clenching.

How a Night Guard Works

A night guard is a special dental appliance that resembles a retainer but has a very different function. 

Retainers work to prevent teeth from shifting or crowding, and teenagers commonly wear them to avert misalignment of the teeth after their braces come off.

Night guards serve a different purpose.

The primary purpose of a night guard is to prevent teeth grinding and clenching in people suffering from bruxism. It also helps avoid accidental tooth movement, which can make teeth grinding even worse.

Here’s how it works:

A night guard covers the tooth enamel on the front and back teeth. It is usually only worn on either the upper teeth or lower teeth to prevent upper and lower teeth from grinding together. 

For most people, there’s no need to wear one over the top teeth and bottom teeth simultaneously; one layer of protection in between the upper and lower teeth is sufficient for most patients.

Custom night guards typically comprise acrylic or other food-grade materials, such as PETG, TPU, or EVA. When fitted properly, they will protect your teeth from grinding and prevent clenching and other mouth movements that can shift your teeth.

If a night guard isn’t custom-fitted to your mouth, it can have the opposite effect and cause your teeth to shift.

Night Guards May Look Like Clear Aligners, But They’re Not Meant to Shift Your Teeth 

For people that have worn clear aligners in the past, feeling shifting with a night guard may seem normal. 

It is not.

When patients are fitted with clear aligners, it’s as part of an overall orthodontic treatment plan. Because aligners cause incremental movements of the teeth, that treatment plan requires patients to wear a series of a dozen or more aligners in different sizes over time. These all of those little shifts required to reach the patient’s end goal of a straight, perfect smile. 

Teeth have roots, and those roots are embraced by periodontal ligament tissues. These tissues are supported by alveolar bones. 

When pressure is put on one side of a tooth but not on the other, it can put added pressure on the ligament tissues and start to shift the teeth. This can lead to the need for alveolar bone remodeling. 

Clear aligners shift the teeth in a purposeful way to reach a new, intentional position. If a night guard feels tight in your mouth and puts pressure on the ligament tissues, it can have the same shifting effect, albeit unintended. 

Discover more with our Everything About Night Guards resource!

How to Tell If Your Night Guard is Causing Shifting Teeth

When a night guard doesn’t fit properly, it can add pressure to your teeth, which can cause your teeth to shift. 

If you’re wondering if your night guard might be causing your teeth to move, there are some signs to look for.

Worsening Symptoms of Bruxism 

Bruxism is sometimes caused by temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), but sometimes it causes TMJ to develop. These two conditions can be either a cause or effect of one another. 

The relationship between bruxism and shifting teeth is quite similar.

In some cases, bruxism can shift teeth, especially if you wear an ill-fitting night guard. In other instances, shifting teeth caused by an ill-fitting night guard can worsen your bruxism.

Bruxism can lead to tooth mobility, so teeth shifting may signify that your bruxism is worsening, regardless of whether or not your night guard is the cause.

In addition to damaging tooth enamel, chipping, and shifting your teeth, bruxism can lead to the onset of a variety of painful side effects, such as:

If you currently wear an ill-fitting night guard for bruxism, it may be time to invest in a new one that covers your teeth better.

Your Bite Feels Different 

How your top teeth align with your bottom teeth is referred to as your bite

In people whose teeth are correctly aligned, their bite is comfortable and consistently feels the same. If you detect a difference in your bite, it could be because some of your teeth are shifting.

Teeth don’t shift overnight, so it can take weeks or months to visibly detect that your bite feels different than it did. However, because teeth shift gradually, you may start to notice a slight difference in a shorter period. 

At the first sign of teeth shifting or bite discomfort, consult with your dental health professional to ensure that your night guard isn’t the culprit of the unwanted shift. 

Don’t Rely on an Over the Counter Night Guard 

If you’re wearing an over-the-counter night guard, it’s time to replace your OTC one with a custom night guard.

There are two primary types of night guards that you can buy over the counter:

  • One-size-fits-all night guard
  • Boil and bite night guard

With a one-size-fits-all night guard, the problem lies right in its name. 

Everyone’s mouth and teeth configurations are different, so there’s no guarantee that a one-size-fits-all guard will actually fit your mouth correctly. Many people turn to these hard night guards because they are inexpensive, but they can cause problems, including tooth damage and teeth shifting with consistent use.

The boil and bite night guard comprise soft material that you boil to heat and bite down on to mold around your teeth. These tend to create a better fit than the one size fits all version, but they don’t provide as secure a fit as a custom night guard.

Boil and bite night guards are not very durable. They consist of cheap plastics, so hard grinders may be able to grind through them. They are an inexpensive option, but a custom-fit night guard is always better.

Further reading: Why Do My Teeth Feel Weird?

Other Reasons Your Teeth Could Be Shifting

Close-up of a young woman brushing her teeth

Wearing a dental night guard can cause your teeth to shift, but your night guard may have nothing to do with why your teeth are moving out of place. 

There are a host of other factors that can cause your teeth to shift, so before you blame your night guard, consider that one of these other reasons could be the cause:

Missing Teeth

Though every tooth in your mouth is independent of the others, having all of them in place helps them stay in place. When teeth are missing, the nearby teeth can shift and move around.

When you have a gap from a missing tooth, the teeth on either side of it lose their support system. That can cause the teeth on either side of a missing tooth to shift, which can then cause the teeth on either side to move.

When all of your teeth are properly aligned, they won’t shift. When one or more is missing, it’s common for the others to move. 

Growth of New Teeth

For your teeth to grow properly, you need enough space in your mouth to fit them in. When new teeth, like wisdom teeth, grow, there is often not enough room for them to fit comfortably in the mouth.

For some people, their wisdom teeth develop comfortably and naturally. In some people, they don’t come in at all. In other people, wisdom teeth make room for themselves by pushing other teeth out of place

This causes the shifting of teeth that were perfectly aligned until then.

If you feel a throbbing pain in your mouth or jaw, make an appointment with your dentist. Extracting your wisdom teeth before they try to break through your gum line can reduce the possibility of them pushing and shifting your other teeth.

Periodontal Disease 

If it looks as though your gums are receding or your teeth are getting longer, you may have periodontal disease

What is periodontal disease? It’s a leading cause of tooth mobility and, eventually, tooth loss. If you have it, your gums pull away from the teeth and deep pockets form around the teeth. This can cause teeth to move or even fall out.

Receding gums or noticeable plaque buildup at the gum line indicates that you have some level of periodontal disease. 

Maintaining a proper oral health routine with regular professional dental cleanings is the best way to prevent periodontitis and minimize tooth loss.

Tongue Thrusting 

Tongue thrusting is when you habitually push your tongue forward in your mouth. The tongue is a strong muscle, and consistent forward thrusting of the tongue can alter your teeth alignment and cause them to shift.

There are many reasons why people develop tongue thrusting habits, but it’s most common in children who suck their thumb. However, some adults suffering from sleep apnea find that they thrust their tongue forward while using a CPAP machine.

The good news for tongue thrusters is that you can do some physical exercises to minimize the habit. Consult with your dental professional to learn oral exercises that will help you better position your tongue and reduce your need to thrust.

Failing to Wear Your Retainer 

If your orthodontist tells you to wear a retainer following an orthodontic treatment, wear it.

Why?

It’s the best way to keep your teeth aligned in their new position.

Failure to wear a retainer can cause your teeth to shift back to where they were before your orthodontic treatments and, in some cases, shift them into even worse positions. 

This could result in needing to wear braces again and starting the process over, potentially for an even more extended period than the first time.

If you don’t wear your retainer as directed, your teeth will likely drift and shift.

Related: How Often Should I Replace My Night Guard

How to Find a Better Solution for Shifting Teeth

Close-up of a dentist holding a mold of teeth

For a night guard to ease bruxism without shifting your teeth, it must fit your mouth. 

Instead of picking up a hard OTC version or a boil and bite guard in your local pharmacy, consult with a dentistry professional to order a night guard that will alleviate your symptoms without further damage.

Custom Fitting a Night Guard: How the Process Works 

The custom-fit night guard process is quick, easy, and painless. With a simple impression of your mouth, JS Dental Lab can custom fit a night guard for you, and you won’t even have to make a trip to the dentist’s office.

JS Dental Lab offers a variety of custom-fit night guards to suit your specific needs, and you can make your impression in the comfort of home.

We ship impression trays and putty that you can use to make your impression along with a prepaid return shipping label. That way, you can send your mold back to us free and easy. 

From there, we make your custom night guard and ship it back to you. It’s a simple process that costs a fraction of what you’ll pay at a dentist’s office.

JS Dental Lab custom fits night guards for people who grind and clench, people with sensitive teeth, and those who need to wear a guard during the day.

Not sure which type of guard you need?

Take our assessment quiz to determine which night guard will work best for you. 

Conclusion

Can a night guard shift your teeth?

If it’s not fitted correctly, the answer is yes.

If you wear an over-the-counter mouth guard at night, it may be shifting your teeth. To prevent further damage, get fitted with a custom design built specifically for you.

For many people, wearing a night guard is essential in maintaining proper oral healthcare, but it could cause more harm than help if it doesn’t fit right. Get the perfect fitting night guard the first time with JS Dental Lab.

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