For those who are fortunate, sleep is a serene and peaceful nightly ritual that leads to rested and refreshed mornings. Not everyone is so lucky. Many of us, for various reasons, find the time we spend asleep to be less than entirely productive. Rather than waking up in the morning feeling good and revitalized, we might feel tenderness in our face or mouth, have headaches upon waking, or experience sensitive jaw muscles and/or teeth. More than likely, these symptoms are a result of a night of grinding or clenching teeth.
The occlusal guards, also commonly referred to as night guards, occlusal splints, or simply bite splints, are specialized orthotic devices that are designed to prevent the mouth from performing this clenching and grinding teeth at night (bruxism), and to alleviate the pain, damage and discomfort that come as a result. An occlusal guard, when used properly, will be produced to be a custom fit for the person wearing it.
How Does an Occlusal Guard Work?
When someone wears a mouth guard overnight, their teeth are protected by the clear, acrylic resin which has been molded to perfectly cover the teeth. This material works to prevent damage such as chipping or scratching of teeth, as well as the physical pain that typically accompanies the grinding and clenching.
The specifics of how the guard works depends to a certain extent to the type of guard being used.
The Different Types of Guards
- Clenching and grinding often occurs overnight – and most occlusal guards are for overnight use only – but doctors will occasionally have their patients wear the guard during the day to prevent minimize tooth damage
- Some night guards cover the entire rows of teeth, while others cover the individual teeth
- Patients can use guards that either cover one row of teeth, or both rows
How to Know if You Should Wear a Night Guard
There are a few warning signs that may indicate you are a strong candidate for using a mouth guard. Below are just some of the symptoms to keep an eye out for:
- Consistently getting headaches in the morning
- Awakening with mild or significant tooth pain
- Experiencing sore or sensitive jaw muscle and face pain
- Feeling that you have not gotten a full night's sleep, even when you go to sleep and wake up at normal times
Having these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you definitely need to start using an occlusal night guard. That being said, if you do find that you are regularly experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it is a good idea to consult your physician to determine whether some type of mouth guard might be worth using to alleviate discomfort or tooth scraping or chipping.
Occlusal Guards and TMJ Disorders
TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders constitute a family of medical problems that are related to the human jaw joint. Those suffering from a TMJ disorder will typically experience a common affliction of pain and possibly a clicking sound from the jaw area. There have been significant advancements in medicine related to TMJ disorders and they are now more easily diagnosable than ever – which is fortunate because untreated TMJ problems can lead to much more serious issues, such as chronic spasms, joint imbalance, and severe pain. There are millions of the people around the world who are suffering TMJ disorders, and in most cases, these people are able to get a good amount of relief by using a mouth guard. In some cases, the guard is combined with another form of therapy called occlusal equilibrium.
What to Expect When Using an Occlusal Guard
Using any type of mouth guard has definitively been shown to be effective to help with teeth grinding and clinching, but those utilizing the guard should not necessarily expect to become comfortable with it right away. Many people who use the guards have noted that there can be weeks – and in some cases, even months – before the act of sleeping with the guard begins to feel natural. Although this process can be initially uncomfortable and unusual and will take some getting used to, people who wear them will usually find that once they have become accustomed to sleeping with them, they can hardly sleep without them and the ritual of occlusal guard cleaning becomes second nature.
Considering the many stresses of fast-paced life and the demands we all face, it should perhaps not be surprising that a sizable portion of the population experience manifestations of this stress in the form of night clenching and grinding. The good news is that by taking advantage of mouth guards, people are able to get relief and wake up feeling ready to tackle the day. When people are able to sleep properly and can awake without pain and sensitivity, they are much more likely to live happy and productive lives.