You deserve a great night’s rest. The kind that allows you to spring out of bed and hit the ground running—feeling energized and ready to tackle the day. But if you’re among the 10% of American adults who grind their teeth when they sleep (known medically as sleep-related bruxism), this might seem like a dream that’s just out of reach.
Help is closer than you think—in the form of a night guard.
The thought of wearing a night guard might be a little intimidating, but we’re here to help put your mind at rest. We’ve put together a helpful guide to answer all your questions—and make choosing the right night guard for you a breeze.
What exactly is a night guard, anyway?
We know: the name makes it sound like some sort of sentry who stands watch over you as you slumber. And while that’s not completely true, it’s not entirely false, either. A night guard does watch overpartof you while you sleep: your teeth!
A night guard is a dental device that provides a protective barrier between your upper and lower teeth. Many dentists recommend or prescribe night guards to help reduce the negative effects of bruxism—from the wearing down and cracking of your teeth to temperature sensitivity and jaw, neck, shoulder, and back pain.
You might also hear night guards referred to as mouth guards, bite guards, or teeth guards. No matter what you choose to call them (we’ll stick with night guard here), their purpose is the same: to protect your chompers while you sleep.
Alright, so how do I know if I need a night guard?
You might not know you need a night guard—at first. It can be hard to tell you’re grinding your teeth while you sleep because, well…you’re sleeping! Most often, your partner will be the one to clue you in—especially if your nightly teeth gnashing is loud enough to shake them from sleep.
If you’re keeping up with your semi-annual appointments, your dentist may be the first to spot your grinding after having a quick look at your teeth. They’ll see teeth that are flattened and enamel that’s worn—maybe even some chips or fractures.
Of course, even before someone else confirms it, you’ll probably know something’sgoing on. If you wake up with a sore jaw, are prone to headaches or migraines, or find your teeth are suddenly more sensitive to hot foods and cold drinks, you might be grinding your teeth.
However you find out about your grinding, don’t ignore it! The longer it continues unabated, the worse its effects can be.
Okay, I think I need a night guard. What are my options?
You’ve taken the first step toward a better night’s sleep and are ready to explore your options. Whether your partner or dentist has told you about your grinding or you figured it out on your own, a night guard is a great way to keep your teeth safe and reduce your pain and discomfort as you work to overcome the root cause.
There are two crucial factors to consider when picking out your new night guard: comfort and effectiveness. Cost will certainly be a deciding factor as well—but as you’ll see, a quality night guard doesn’t have to break the bank. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the options available to you.
Sports guards: The name says it all. These guards are designed for one thing: sports. Sure, they can be used as night guards. But you’ll most likely find that their thick, extremely hard material—which is ideal for protecting your teeth during sports activities—makes it difficult to breathe normally.
Sports guards tend to be fairly cheap (usually no more than $20). Some are boil-and-bite, meaning you can soften them in boiling water and gently bite into them to mold them to your teeth, but the majority are one-size-fits-all. This design makes sports guards bulky and uncomfortable—especially when you’re trying to relax and rest.
Over-the-counter guards: You can find these guards at most drug stores, usually for no more than $40 a pop. Over-the-counter guards are typically made of thinner materials than sports guards, helping to reduce bulkiness and increase comfort. And since most models are boil-and-bite, you’ll get better fitting protection than you would with a sports guard.
One thing to be cautious of with over-the-counter guards is their lifespan. Since they’re made using pliable plastics (which allows for the boil-and-bite), they usually don’t hold up for very long. While $40 might seem like a great price, having to replace your guard every few months because of wear and tear can become costly .
Professional guards from your dentist: Welcome to the Lamborghini of night guards—at a price point to match (contextually speaking, of course). To make your guard, your dentist will start by taking a mold of your teeth. Then, they’ll use this mold to design a guard that fits perfectly over your pearly whites. These guards are specially tailored to an ideal thickness, depending on your specific type of grinding. They can also be customized to help position your jaw appropriately while you sleep—eliminating the jaw pain that comes from clenching and grinding.
The materials used for professional guards are quite a step up from those used for sports guards and over-the-counter models. Most often, your dentist will use a thermoplastic material like acrylic, or dual-laminates made of both acrylic and vinyl. These materials are extremely durable, allowing your guard to remain in top shape for as long as 10 years.
You might be thinking that this type of night guard sounds perfect. But bear in mind that getting a guard from your dentist can be a little—or a lot—pricey. Depending on your dentist, your guard may cost anywhere from $300 to $1,500. It’s always a good idea to check your dental insurance plan if you have one to see if it covers night guards. While some plans do, the majority of them do not—resulting in a hefty out-of-pocket cost.
Professional guards from a private lab: Ordering from a private lab gives you all the benefits of a dentist-made night guard without the eye-watering price tag. Private labs use the same durable thermoplastics or dual-laminates to design a guard that is custom-fitted for quality and comfort. The only real drawback of ordering from a private lab is that you take the place of your dentist when it comes to making molds of your teeth. Luckily, this can be easy and even kind of fun to do.
The lab will send you the materials to make the molds and provide you with instructions. Once you’ve made your molds, simply send them back to the lab for them to craft your guard—which they’ll conveniently mail to you. The entire process usually takes about two weeks, and all at an affordable price. Private sellers usually offer custom guards for somewhere between $80 and $180—depending on your grinding and the type of guard that will best protect your teeth.
Should I be worried about wearing a night guard?
Not. At. All. Adjusting to wearing a night guard can certainly pose some challenges, but it will become second nature before you know it.
Getting used to sleeping with a night guard in your mouth does take some time. The type of night guard you choose will have a big impact on how long this adjustment period lasts.
If you opt for an over-the-counter guard, you’ll probably be dealing with something that feels bulkier and more uncomfortable in your mouth. The size of over-the-counter guards can make breathing difficult and may cause drooling—even gagging.
Professionally-made custom night guards can present their own challenges, too. Because they’re so well made, so perfectly designed to fit your teeth, it might feel like your guard is too tight at first. This isn’t the case—you’re just not used to having something fit snugly over your teeth while you sleep. It will feel strange for a little while, but you’ll get used to it before you know it.
With any night guard, give yourself—and your mouth—the chance to adjust. It can take anywhere from two weeks to two months to form a new habit—which is exactly what wearing a night guard is. While it might not take nearly that long, you still need to give yourself time to get used to wearing a guard every night—and don’t get disheartened if it doesn’t feel perfect right away.
A good trick to try is putting your night guard in a little while before you’re ready to lay down for the night. Even 15 or 20 minutes can help. As you’re going through your evening routine—washing dishes, tucking in the kids, packing lunch for the next day—pop in your guard. Having a little extra time with it in your mouth each day will help you get used to it faster. That way, when you get into bed, you’re not thinking about the guard being in your mouth. You’re already used to it being there!
But make sure you’re keeping track of how your night guard feels. If it’s still uncomfortably tight after a few weeks—or is causing you increased tooth pain—you may need to have it adjusted. Adjustments are most often needed when the teeth impressions used to make your guard are low-quality. Getting new, first-rate impressions is a good first step to making sure your guard doesn’t cause you discomfort.
If I’m going to invest in a night guard, how can I take care of it?
You certainly don’t want to spend money on a night guard only to have it break down and become useless in a matter of months. There’s a greater risk of this with over-the-counter night guards because their material isn’t as durable as the thermoplastics that professionals use.
Lower-grade plastics simply can’t stand up to extensive grinding—especially if it’s of the heavier, more intense variety. Not only will it cost more to replace a night guard that quickly wears out, but you run the risk of experiencing more discomfort and pain by using a night guard that isn’t strong and durable enough to do what you need it to.
Even though they’re more durable, professional night guards are still subject to some wear and tear. Whether you opt for an over-the-counter guard or one that’s made by professionals, you want to do everything you can to take care of it—ensuring it keeps your teeth safe for as long as possible.
The first step to maintaining your guard’s strength and functionality is keeping it clean. As you sleep, all the microbes living in your mouth are settling onto your guard. This can cause problems because those microbes—along with food particles, plaque, and other debris—can degrade the guard’s material, slowly but surely weakening it.
As soon as you’re out of bed in the morning, rinse your guard with warm water. This helps loosen all the things that stuck to it overnight. Never use hot water, as it can cause your guard to become distorted and ineffective. As you rinse it, give your guard a good inspection, keeping an eye out for any cracks or breaks. If you discover any, stop using your night guard and see about getting a new one—either by heading to your drug store to pick one up or reaching out to your dentist or private lab.
When you’re done rinsing, give your guard a good brush. A normal toothbrush works just fine for this—but don’t worry about using toothpaste. In fact, it’s best you don’t. Toothpaste can be abrasive and might scratch your guard—causing it to wear out far sooner than it should. Just be sure that when you’re scrubbing, you hit every part of the guard—getting all the microbes and debris out of every nook and cranny.
Once you’ve given it a thorough scrub, set your guard on a clean, flat surface to dry. It’s important to let it dry completely, which usually takes no more than 30 minutes. If you put a still-damp guard into a sealed storage case, you run the risk of promoting rapid bacterial growth. Just like the microbes that are in your mouth, this bacteria can shorten the lifespan of your guard—and potentially cause gum recession if you’re putting a bacteria-coated guard into your mouth every night.
You should also get in the habit of giving your guard a thorough deep clean once a week. There are a few ways you can go about this.
One involves a mixture of distilled vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. Start by soaking your guard in the vinegar for half an hour. Then, soak it in the hydrogen peroxide for another 30 minutes, rinsing and setting it aside to dry when time’s up.
Or you can uses mouthwash and water. You never want to use pure mouthwash, but a capful diluted with water will work like a charm. Simply place your guard in a glass or bowl, add your cap of mouthwash, and fill it the rest of the way with water. Again, after about half an hour, rinse your guard and let it dry.
No matter how you choose to deep clean your guard, you neverwant to let it soak for more than one hour. Keeping your guard submerged in liquid for too long can cause it to wear out faster, so set a timer if you think you might forget.
When you’re not wearing your night guard, always keep it in a case. This helps prevent prolonged exposure to the dust and dirt that’s always floating around in the air—which you probably don’t want in your mouth! It might seem like a good idea to store your case in the bathroom, but this can actually be harmful to your guard, since humidity and steam can cause the material to warp over time. Instead, consider keeping your guard in your bedroom. In fact, keeping it right on your nightstand can be a great reminder as you start developing your new night guard habit.
It’s also important to keep your guard’s case clean. You’ve put a lot of time into keeping your guard spic and span, so you certainly don’t want to store it in a dirty case. Give your case a good handwashing (regular dish detergent will work just fine) every few days. Avoid cleaning your case in the dishwasher, as high temperatures can cause your case to warp and melt. And as you did with the guard itself, let the case dry completely to prevent bacterial growth.
If you’re considering a night guard, we hope this guide has answered some of the questions you undoubtedly have. And if you have more, we’re here to help! At J&S Dental Labs, we’re committed to helping you find relief with our custom-made night guards. To find out more, get in touch with us today.