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What is an Occlusal Guard? How Does it Work?

9 min read
by JS Dental Lab |

The field of dentistry is full of marvelous ways to fix your oral health issues. 

One of those innovations is the occlusal guard, better known as a night guard.

A quick and easy description of an occlusal guard is as a protective dental device that slides over your teeth. 

Dental professionals usually recommend them for people who grind and clench their jaws at night. This condition is known as bruxism and can damage your teeth.

Wearing an occlusal guard at night can potentially reduce damage by serving as a barrier between your teeth.

The oral appliance has come a long way since its inception as a bulky mouth guard more than a century ago. Today’s occlusal guards are so smooth and lightweight, you may barely notice you’re wearing one.

So how does an occlusal guard work? 

This guide provides you with the facts about the night guard and helps you decide if one is right for you.

Occlusal Guards in a Nutshell

An occlusal guard is called by many things interchangeably, most often as a night guard. 

However, you’ll also hear them referred to as bite guards, dental orthotics, or oral appliances. 

No matter what you call it, an occlusal guard has one primary purpose: to help treat certain dental conditions. 

People who have bruxism, TMJ, and jaw joint problems use a night guard to reduce the damage their conditions create.

How Occlusal Guards Work

When you have bruxism, you grind your teeth and clench your jaw without realizing it. A bite guard slides into your mouth, cushioning the upper and lower teeth from impact and grinding. 

With the right appliance, your jaw muscles relax and your enamel is safe from the erosion that comes with your heavy bite force. 

To put it in perspective, normal chewing puts a bite force of about 68 pounds of pressure on the molars (your back teeth), depending on your age, gender, and other factors

This bite force can be multiplied as much as six times when you have bruxism!

The night guard reduces this force significantly. Since the device becomes a buffer between the upper and lower teeth, it minimizes the grinding and relaxes the jaw.

The same behavior helps when your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is out of alignment, or you have other jaw issues. The guard reduces extra strain and trauma on the joints in the jaw, reducing pain and discomfort.

However, an occlusal guard decreases the damage from certain conditions, like bruxism. It doesn’t solve the issue entirely, so you still need to learn why you’re grinding your teeth (usually anxiety) and get help with your jaw pain.

Is your dental routine working for you? Check out our Routine Dental Care Checklist to see for yourself!

Types of Occlusal Guards and Splints

close-up of a young woman flossing

You’ll hear the terms occlusal guards and occlusal splints when talking about night guards. They’re similar, but there’s a slight difference.

An occlusal splint is designed to serve a purpose; in this case, fixing something that’s not quite right in your mouth. 

However, there are multiple kinds of occlusal splints. Some stabilize a misaligned jaw, reposition the mouth, or have more specialized purposes. 

A night guard is a special type of splint that limits the symptoms of bruxism, TMJ, or jaw pain. 

Here, we’ll break down the splints and guards you may see along your dental journey.

Occlusal Guard/Night Guard

Not to be mistaken for sports guards, which are devices that protect the mouth from injury during active play, you wear occlusal guards to help relax the jaw. 

These oral appliances are almost always worn while a person is sleeping, hence the term “night guard.” The night guard reduces facial and jaw pain and tooth damage when worn correctly.

This dental guard is also known as a bite splint. You can buy them over-the-counter or get boil-in-bag devices online. 

However, a customized version from an expert online retailer like JS Dental Lab gives you the best results for your money. 

If you’ve wanted to try a night guard for your bruxing or toothache, JS Dental Lab’s night guards are high-quality devices at a much lower price than going to a dental office.

Stabilization Splint

A stabilization splint does a similar job as the occlusal splint. The main difference is that it only covers the upper teeth and has a flat, acrylic surface.

It still minimizes tooth grinding and reduces sore jaw muscles. But since the lower teeth aren’t covered, it doesn’t help with clenching that comes with bruxing.

Repositioning Splint

When your problem is in the lower jaw, a repositioning splint may help. This device moves the jaw forward or backward to encourage the jaw to sit in a better place. 

Dentists recommend a repositioning oral appliance when you have a misaligned jaw and “clicking” symptoms with your joint pain. 

Since it’s a therapeutic device, you shouldn’t wear it for longer than six weeks.  Otherwise, further damage can occur.   

NTI-tss Device

The NTI-tss (short for Nociceptive Trigeminal Inhibition Tension Suppression System) device slides over the upper front teeth to stop clenching and grinding. 

This device pressures the limited teeth it covers, so wear it with caution. It can damage your natural healthy smile because of the stress exerted on the front few. 

There is also the concern of its size. It’s possible to accidentally swallow the NTI-tss and choke or aspirate. 

With these warnings in mind, if your bruxism is severe, an NTI-tss device is one of the best treatment options.

Discover: Can You Use Essential Oils for Teeth Grinding?

What Are Occlusal Guards Made Of?

One of the attractive features of an occlusal guard is the ability to get yours custom-fit for your teeth, dental problems, and comfort level. 

So, unlike an over-the-counter solution, your customized occlusal guard will give you the best results in the shortest time.

Depending on your needs, you have two main options: a hard or soft guard. 

We all want the softest material possible, right? Well, don’t discount the hard guards yet. 

Check out these benefits, and you might discover the “hard” guards aren’t a bad thing after all.

Hard Guards

Your custom-fit night guard from JS Dental Lab will protect your teeth and relax the muscles in your jaw. This relieves the extra pressure on the joint and reduces your discomfort and other symptoms.

For this to happen, though, the night guard has to have some rigidity to it and fit perfectly over your natural teeth. Hard guards let the lower teeth and jaw move around while still preventing grinding damage.

As long as you are working with a professional dental lab, they will craft your guard with thermoplastic materials that hold up to your grinding habits. The over-the-counter and boil-in-bite guards are cheaper, but you need to replace them frequently.

At JS Dental Lab, the hard night guards comprise Polyethylene terephthalate, commonly known as PETG, PET, and Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA). 

The materials are all biocompatible to prevent health risks. All guards are gluten, BPA, Phthalate, Latex, Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, and MMA-free.

Soft Guards

Soft night guards are more of what you get when buying an over-the-counter device. They do protect your teeth. The problem is that they can actually make your bruxism worse because they’re soft. 

Your jaw can and will still make those chewing and grinding movements with a soft guard. In fact, it may even increase these damaging behaviors.

Conditions That Occlusal Guards Help

The reason for your soreness determines the type of occlusal guard you should use. 

Some conditions need a little bit of help to relax the jaw. Others will require specific therapeutic devices for more assistance.

Here are common conditions that an occlusal guard can treat:

TMJ/TMD Disorder

When you know you have a TMD or TMJ disorder diagnosis, it’s crucial to get help from a specialist for the condition. A guard can reduce the damage to your teeth caused by your TMJ disorder.

But professional help is essential if you want to fix the problem at the source.

Keep in mind that TMJ is a very individualized diagnosis. Your disorder may be unlike anyone else’s, so be careful not to use the advice of a friend with TMJ, for instance. Their solution may not work for you and could even worsen your condition.

Once you’ve seen a specialist, they will likely recommend a night guard to help give you some relief from your pain. JS Dental Lab’s 3D Premium night guards are a possible solution!

Bruxism

Most people do not know they have bruxism until they start experiencing facial pain and neck and shoulder discomfort. 

Then, they look for ways to reduce their symptoms, only to find out they’re grinding and clenching in their sleep or unconsciously when stressed.

There are two types of bruxism disorders: awake and asleep. Both of these are side effects of stress and anxiety. Their symptoms include earaches, morning headaches, and neck and shoulder pain.

Grinders with mild to moderate bruxism can use a night guard to reduce the complications of their condition. However, the dental appliance doesn’t stop the reason you’re grinding. 

See also: How Often Should I Replace My Night Guard?

How to Buy an Occlusal Guard

Dentist office with oral hygienist

You’ve decided an occlusal guard is your next step. That’s great! A life without the pain of dealing with your dental symptoms may be right around the corner.

The question is: Where do you go to buy one? 

While any guard is helpful, there are pros and cons to each. 

Use these tips to narrow down your decision for the best investment.

Sports Guards

Sports guards are easy to find on the shelf in most department stores. However, they’re ideal for use during physical activities, like playing sports.

Don’t mistake a sports guard for a night guard. The two are entirely incompatible.

Over-the-Counter Guards

These are also available at most drug stores. They’re tempting because they’re cheap. 

But, as we mentioned earlier, these guards are made from thin materials. They don’t work as well as a professionally made night guard, and they won’t last (typically) more than a few months.

Get a boil-and-bite guard if it’s your choice between that or nothing. But if you can afford to invest a little more at first, your night guard will stay in good shape for years.

Dentist’s Office Professional Guards

When you want the highest-quality night guard possible, a dentist’s office (with a DMD or a DDS) is a smart way to go. They create these guards using a mold of your teeth, so you know the fit will be perfect for you.

They also suit the right thickness for your grinding technique, and the materials are durable and safe.

In fact, other than the price, a dentist’s guard is the perfect way to go! But in addition to the guard you’re paying for the molding, the office visit, the follow-up visit … the list can get extensive. 

And expensive.

Luckily, there’s a solution that’s on par with the quality of a dentist’s night guard combined with affordability and convenience.

JS Dental Lab

JS Dental Lab is a private lab with professional experts doing the work. When you order from our lab, you’ll get the same type of product you get at the dentist’s office. 

The major difference is that it’s all done through the mail and online, making it easier and more affordable.

We’ll send you the materials to make the mold at home and walk you through the process. When your mold is finished, you send it back to the lab. The lab creates the night guard and then mails it to you. 

From start to finish, receiving your night guard only takes a couple of weeks.

Convenience, quality, and affordability, all in one place. Plus, you get the benefit of working with an expert who will tailor your night guard to your unique condition. 

It’s the ideal solution for thousands of bruxers!

Conclusion

Occlusal guards are a type of treatment for people with various dental problems. They can fit along your top or bottom teeth (or both), reduce soreness and discomfort, and prevent enamel damage.

As an orthodontic device, a guard doesn’t shift your teeth or fix your condition. If you have a medical issue such as TMJ or sleep apnea, a night guard can reduce the symptoms, but you’ll still need to see a specialist to get to the root of the condition.

If you decide an occlusal guard is your next step, JS Dental Lab can walk you through the night guard process and get you started!

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