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Occlusal Dental Guards: Everything You Need to Know

7 min read
by Dylan Hao |

If you’re a bruxer, your dentist or doctor may have recommended an occlusal guard. That’s another way of saying “night guard” or “bite guard.” They’re all removable appliances that sit over the top or bottom teeth and limit contact between the upper and lower arches.

Ready to see what these oral appliances can do for you? Read on to learn everything you need to know about occlusal dental guards here!

Hybrid Night Guard

What Is an Occlusal Guard?

The primary function of the occlusal is to chew and grind food. Your canines and premolars get the job of tearing and cutting first; then the molars kick in to crush the pieces. “Occlusal” includes any surfaces of the teeth used for chewing.

Grinding and clenching mean you’re still behaving like you have food, but there’s no substance between the enamel to reduce the pressure.

Clenching and grinding behaviors naturally overuse the occlusal surfaces. Your dentist will notice this damage easily during an exam and may recommend an occlusal guard. 

Don’t let the fancy name fool you, though.

Occlusal guards, bite guards, and bite splints are simply other terms for night guards. In short, they’re all removable appliances that slide over the upper or lower teeth to prevent damage from grinding and clenching.

These devices aren’t designed to stop bruxing behaviors. Instead, they prevent the surfaces of your upper and lower teeth from touching.

This small change is enough to make a big difference in your symptoms. You should notice a marked decrease in:

  • Jaw pain
  • Neck and shoulder discomfort
  • Teeth sensitivity
  • Headaches
  • Enamel wear and tear

Occlusal Splints vs. Occlusal Guards

Yes, the “occlusal guard” term is interchangeable with many other oral appliances. It’s also important to note that it is not the same thing as an occlusal splint, however.

Some people have significant oral health damage due to severe grinding and clenching, obstructive sleep apnea, or TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders. In those situations, they need a device that protects their teeth from damage while also treating the condition by moving the jaw or holding the tongue in place. 

Occlusal splints should only be used under the care and supervision of your doctor, while occlusal guards can be purchased over-the-counter or through the mail.

What Are the Benefits of Using an Occlusal Dental Guard?

lightly bearded young man sleeping comfortably in his bed

By the time you realize something’s going on and an occlusal guard becomes your next step, you’re already dealing with bruxing side effects. A custom-fit night guard sits in your mouth comfortably, letting your jaw and the attached muscles relax while you sleep.

It may take a few days or so to get used to sleeping with an oral appliance in your mouth. But over time, with consistency, you’ll notice significant advantages that help you get over that initial odd sensation.

Night guards are designed to reduce teeth clenching and grinding symptoms, including (but not limited to):

  • Jaw pain and stiffness
  • Enamel wear-and-tear
  • Fractured or cracked teeth
  • Damaged dental restorations
  • Loose teeth
  • Hot and cold sensitivity
  • Morning headaches, earaches, or toothaches
  • Restless sleep
  • Facial pain
  • Nighttime grinding noises

Occlusal guards work to protect the enamel from grinding damage, meaning you’ll save money and time avoiding extra dental visits. Your jaw, joints, and muscles will feel better with the reduced wear and tear you’re putting on them.

Maybe you’ve noticed that you’re extra tired all day, too. That’s another common side effect of sleep bruxism. You may not notice, but your brain isn’t getting the rest it needs because it’s using that energy to grind and clench. Consistently wearing the guard helps improve your sleep quality.

With all these benefits, it’s unsurprising that many people use a night guard as their first defense against bruxing damage.

But the key is to use the correct occlusal guard for your mouth. Since there are multiple kinds, this part requires some pre-purchase research, which we’ll explain next.

What Are the Types of Occlusal Dental Guards?

Your bruxing behaviors are as unique as you are!

The kind of guard you need is based on those grinding and clenching actions. 

As a heads-up, while you’re shopping, you don’t want to buy a sports mouth guard. These are a completely different category, made to protect an athlete’s mouth from damage during contact sports. You’ll likely see them thrown into the search results when you look for a night guard, but they are not the same thing.

Before you invest in an occlusal guard, let’s look at an overview of the three main types used for bruxing. 

Soft Night Guards

Do you think you might have bruxism, or your dentist pointed out the early signs but you’re still not feeling too much discomfort?

You’re in the perfect stage of bruxing to use a soft night guard.

These appliances are made from comfortable material that sits over your upper or lower arch as a deterrent against mild grinding. They’re usually easy to get used to wearing. If your condition gets worse, you may bite through them, though.

Hard Night Guards

You’ve bitten and ground through soft appliances, and your night guards are starting to feel more like chew toys. That doesn’t have to be the case.

Instead, talk to your dentist about whether a hard night guard will work for you.

Unlike other guards, which are more focused on comfort and can be purchased over-the-counter, hard night guards are made from acrylic and similar, highly durable materials. 

They must be custom-fit by your dentist or our experts at JS Dental Lab. These guards are intended to last long and hold up against the strongest bruxers.

Hybrid Night Guards

Finally, we have a combination of soft and hard oral appliances: the hybrid night guard. Also called a dual laminate night guard, these are the next level up in comfort and durability. 

Hybrid dental night guards are ideal for moderate to severe teeth grinders. 

These oral appliances are still soft and comfortable when they touch the inside of your mouth, but their outer surface is hard and can withstand more moderate grinding.

What Occlusal Guards Are Made Of

Most bite guards in dentistry use food-grade materials. Each dental office lab and independent manufacturer has its own combination of ingredients. 

A typical over-the-counter night guard is made of a soft thermoplastic, usually EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate), that can be heated and molded to an approximate impression of your teeth. This gives a basic one-size-fits-all result.

The JS Dental Lab Difference

When you order your night guard from JS Dental Lab, however, you get top-of-the-line, professional-grade appliances at a fraction of the cost of going to a dental office. 

Our guards are always free from:

  • BPA
  • Gluten
  • Phthalates
  • Latex
  • Sodium laurel/laureth sulfates
  • MMA

Each is made from biocompatible materials that pose no health risks.

Nothing we use is outsourced, either. We proudly make our night guards in our Hayward, CA, lab using Polyethylene terephthalate (PETG or PET) and EVA.

Although we can make acrylic-based night guards upon request, we don’t do this as a standard practice, since those guards are harder and less comfortable than our PET material. We do have the capability to make night guards using Methyl Methacrylate if your doctor specifically requests it for added thickness.

As you shop for your night guard, look for one that is soft enough to be comfortable, but durable enough to withstand your grinding habits. Avoid acrylic-based guards unless you’re specifically aiming for protection from severe bruxism.

Shop All our night guards!

How Much Does an Occlusal Guard Cost?

Bag of money next to a stack of coins

As there are different types of guards, you’ll see various prices when you search for your oral appliance.

Dental night guards reduce the effects of teeth grinding, saving you hefty expenses at the dental office. But when you have to pay for your guard out of your pocket, looking for the cheapest is tempting.

Night guards range from $20 to $1,000, depending on the kind and where you purchase them. If you have dental insurance that covers oral appliances, it can help offset the cost.


The cheapest way to get one of these guards is to grab a boil-and-bite over-the-counter.

You boil the mold until it softens, then bite into it and make a general impression of your mouth. After it hardens, you can wear it in your sleep. 

However, since these guards can’t account for all the nooks and crannies in your teeth structure, they can cause changes to your bite and potentially even make your problems worse.


If you go the dentistry route, you’ll pay the cost of the night guard through their preferred lab, which is usually between $300-$1,000. You’ll also need to cover any out-of-pocket expenses not picked up by your insurer, such as office visits and exams. 

The average dental insurance has an annual maximum amount it will pay, regardless of the service. If your cap is the standard $1,500-$2,000, you’ll just about max out your yearly policy with your night guard and office visits.

JS Dental Lab

The best option is to buy a mail-order kit from a professional lab, like our easy-to-use custom-fit night guards at JS Dental Lab.

For a fraction of the cost of the dentist, we’ll send you an impression kit straight to your mailbox, then create a customized occlusal guard using your style preferences and unique mold.

Our friendly experts can walk you through the process and answer any questions!


Your occlusal night guard is the line of defense between your healthy teeth and your bruxing behaviors.

It won’t stop clenching and grinding, but it gives your facial and jaw muscles, tendons, ligaments, and teeth a chance to recover and prevent further damage. The type of guard you need depends on how severe your condition is.

Contact the professionals at JS Dental Lab to see how we can help you find the perfect custom night guard with the right fit and material for your bruxing habits!

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