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Over The Counter Night Guards and Alternatives Compared

8 min read
by Dylan Hao |

Night guards are a vital part of treatment for problems like teeth grinding and TMDs (temporomandibular joint disorders). However, when it comes to choosing your night guard, you should always weigh your options first.

There are many alternatives to select from, including over-the-counter and online varieties, plus professional guards fitted by your dentist. They all have pros and cons that make them work or not work for different people. So how do you know which one is right for you?

In this blog, we’ll examine over-the-counter night guards and their alternatives so that you can decide which design meets your unique needs.

Night Guards for Different Conditions

Bruxism comes in two forms: awake and asleep. The awake version is frequently seen as a subconscious method of coping with stress used by around 5% of the population. Sleep bruxism is more common, found in almost 17% of people worldwide. 

Psychological Factors Behind Bruxing

Research on bruxism connects certain physical factors with the condition. For instance, you’re more likely to brux if you:

  • Take anti-anxiety medications
  • Drink a lot of caffeinated beverages
  • Have parents who were bruxers
  • Take recreational drugs

Yet, the actual cause of the condition is less understood. We know there’s a link between stress and anxiety to bruxing, but we don’t know the commonality. Studies point to a likelihood of a person developing bruxism if they’re under significant pressure or have a highly-driven personality. 

If you don’t release all of your built-up stress before going to sleep, your brain does it for you through the physical actions of bruxing. If you’re awake bruxing, you’re clenching and grinding subconsciously while stressed or nervous.

Read more: What’s Stress Got to Do With It?

The Symptoms of Bruxing

Because you don’t realize you’re engaging in these actions, it’s possible to exhibit some serious pressure on your jaw. You have enough strength in your jaw muscles to damage your teeth while you sleep!

Common symptoms of bruxism include:

  • Cracked, chipped, or abraded teeth
  • Facial muscle pain
  • Headaches
  • Sensitivity in your teeth and gums
  • Jaw pain
  • Jaw lock

In severe cases, people have managed to brux so strongly that they’ve dislocated their jaw.

In general, finding stress-related coping mechanisms can help manage the symptoms of teeth grinding. Activities from journal writing to working out reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. 

Still, there aren’t enough studies that explore how these coping strategies impact bruxism directly. We do know that wearing a well-fitted night guard when you’re sleeping or stressed can prevent much of the damage.

Breaking Down Night Guards

There are many different varieties of night guards, and each is designed for specific conditions.

They are not intended to fix the problem itself. There are other oral appliances for that purpose, such as a repositioning or a stabilization splint that goes over your front teeth to help with TMJ conditions. 

Other appliances that help with sleep apnea can keep your airway open while minimizing bruxing issues. If your goal is to fix a medical condition, you should talk to your doctor about your options before trying any type of oral splint.  

Night guards are also not the same as sports mouth guards, which are used to prevent facial injury during contact activities.

However, for those who want to relieve the symptoms of tooth grinding, you have three main types of night guards: over-the-counter, professional mail-order kits, and ones from the dentist’s office. We’ll dive into each of these next.

Over-the-Counter Night Guards

Moving into the world of dental night guards, your first option is an over-the-counter oral appliance. These are found in many drugstores or online at places like Amazon, sold as boil-and-bite or a one-size-fits-most solution to bruxing.

Boil-and-bite guards are simple to use. You boil the material in hot water to soften it, then bite into the guard. It forms to your teeth and hardens into place.

A one-size-fits-all guard comes pre-molded and isn’t customizable at all. It’s ideal for instant access to a simple night guard.

I tested all the boil and bite guards out there and here is what I found:

Risks of an OTC Night Guard

These two options are the cheapest out-of-pocket. However, that cost comes with a high risk that not only will the guard not work for what you need, it could actually hurt you.

A guard that doesn’t fit well can cause your teeth to shift and increase your jaw and tooth pain. What’s more, if it’s soft and spongy, that’s the perfect combination to tempt you to want to chew more, overworking those jaw muscles you’re trying to rest.

If you notice increased tooth sensitivity and discomfort with your OTC night guard, stop using it immediately and contact your dentist. 

Regarding the pros and cons of an OTC guard, the only pro is that it’s cheap. But that old saying, “You get what you pay for,” is often accurate when applied here.

Dentist’s Office Night Guards

cheerful female dentist holding drill and smiling

So your dentist suggested a night guard, and you’re trying to avoid the price tag that came with their advice.

Before you go that route, let’s discuss the difference between professional, custom-made dental appliances and the drugstore version.

To start with, the materials for each are different. OTC guards are made from cheap, clear plastic. They slide over your arch and prevent the upper and lower teeth from touching — as all night guards do — but they’re not built to withstand long-term grinding. Chances are, you’ll replace yours frequently because you’ll bite through it. 

Pros and Cons of a Night Guard From Your Dentist

Your dentist’s night guard is everything those OTC versions are not. They’re more expensive, but you get the benefit of durability from high-quality material.

A custom-fit night guard from a professional can last years.

Since these guards are designed to the specifications of your mouth using modern impression techniques, a custom night guard will provide you premium fit and comfort.

Your dentist can help you choose the right material for your level of grinding and comfort. Professional night guards come in soft or hard acrylic or dual laminate. These are shaped to fit your mouth perfectly without any pain. 

However, when you go through your dentist to get a custom night guard, you have the added expense of multiple office visits, fittings, and a high-priced oral appliance. 

Night Guards from JS Dental Lab

Professional mail kit night guards

Dental office night guards are essential for serious oral health problems, such as a broken tooth or periodontitis. Those issues must be addressed and fixed before using a night guard.

Your dentist will monitor the fit of your oral appliance alongside any complications, which is essential to your overall health.

Yet, if you simply need a tool to help reduce your bruxism — and there’s nothing significant going on outside of those teeth clenching and grinding issues — the dental office isn’t your only option.

Instead, you can get the same quality, durability, and comfort with a mail-order night guard from us at JS Dental Lab.

Benefits of Using JS Dental Lab

With over 20 years of experience, we’ve tweaked our process pretty well, and we understand our customers. Our custom-made night guards are created in a lab setting using the impression you send us of your teeth.

What to Expect With Your Order

When you order your night guard, you’ll get a kit in the mail with instructions that walk you through the process. It takes just a few minutes to make the impression, saving you hours compared to the dental office route.

Once you mail your impression back to our office, you should receive your very own custom-fit night guard in about 10 days. The kind of guard you get depends on what you chose when you ordered it. We have hard, soft, and hybrid options, all made from FDA-cleared materials. 

Shop all our options now!

How Our Night Guards Are Made

Each guard is Phthalate, Latex, Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, gluten, MMA, and BPA-free. Materials are imported and bought domestically from the most reputable dental manufacturers and vendors. Nothing is outsourced, and each guard is created in our lab in Hayward, CA.

We use biocompatible materials with no health risks, including PETG (Polyethylene terephthalate), TPU, and Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA). We can use acrylic upon request, but it’s harder than our material. 

If you’re unsure which kind you need, our professionals can help you narrow down your best choice.

Severe teeth grinders may prefer the extra-durable custom night guard with a thicker, hard design. If you know you’re sensitive and are concerned about wearing the guard when you sleep, a softer material may be your ideal option. 

Just like the dentist’s office version, our guards are custom-made by professionals in a lab environment. And, if you ever need another night guard, we already have the mold stored, so you can skip the impression step and order a second at a discount.

How to Decide Which Night Guard is Best for You

Now that you know what each option includes, how do you decide which one to buy?

There are three main factors to consider as you shop for your ideal oral appliance:

Severity of Your Symptoms

First, how severe are your symptoms?

If you’re a light bruxer, any basic night guard will work. But if you’re dealing with regular jaw pain, headaches, and tight neck muscles, chances are your nighttime teeth grinding has moved to the next level. You’ll need a durable night guard that you can’t easily grind through.

If you have other symptoms, like periodontitis, broken teeth, or other serious oral health issues, skip the rest of the questions and head straight to your dentist.

You can always buy a night guard elsewhere later if that’s what you decide to do, but you’ll need to fix those problems before using an oral appliance.

Your Budget

Next, what’s your budget?

Most people have a limited income, often leading them to a drugstore guard. However, if you can afford to wait (which we’ll talk about next) and put aside a little money each week, you’ll be better off with a custom-fit mail-order impression kit. 

Some FSA and HSA plans cover or reimburse you for night guards. Be sure to check with yours before planning a purchase.

Instant Gratification or Patiently Waiting

The final consideration is your time constraint. Do you need something right now, or can your bruxing symptoms hold out for a few weeks?

The “right now” requirement is met with an OTC kit, but if you can wait, your options extend to the professional, custom-made guards.


Armed with this knowledge, you can decide which is the best night guard for your symptoms and lifestyle. An over-the-counter guard is your quickest and cheapest option, and if you go the boil-and-bite route, it’s still moldable.

Yet, remember that a guard designed from an impression of your teeth will be more comfortable. Also, working with a company that uses high-quality material, as we do at JS Dental Lab, ensures your guard will last well into the future!

Additional questions? Head over to our FAQs!

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