If you grind your teeth like I do at night, you need to know how serious the repercussions are if you don’t take preventative measures. There are a myriad of dental issues that come with not protecting your teeth from harm. It can wear away enamel, grit them down to painful, unattractive nubs, and cause cracks in your teeth that eventually lead to root canals, crowns, bridges, or even dentures. There are also social impacts. Consider, you are out at a bar, see a the striking figure across the room, approach them, and smile. Their eyes fixate on your teeth; they immediately turns red and walks away. Strike– you now have undatable teeth because you let the grinding go on for too long without correcting it. Not to mention the pain you’ll suffer if you are a severe grinder like I am. The good news is, there are solutions, you just need to pick the right one for you. There are also some dental night guard side effects from wearing one on a regular basis, it will be up to you to decide what pros and cons are right for your lifestyle.
Pros and Cons for Night Guards:
Night Guards are split into three categories: disposable, boil and bite and dental lab. I will explain each option but it’s important to recognize they each have pros and cons. As damaging as grinding your teeth may be, there can be side effects from wearing a dental night guard on a long-term basis. I will also go over the possible dental night guard side effects and what you can do to mitigate them.
Disposable Night Guards
Over the counter night guards are made of thin plastic. They are made for convenience and/or travel. You buy a pack of them and throw them away after a number of uses, most of them last for a week or two. They are great for a quick fix, or when you do not want to worry about loosing your expensive night guard.
Pros: Disposable night guards and by far the lightest and thinnest on the market, this makes them comfortable to sleep in. They are also very hygienic because you are throwing them away and using a new one every week or so. They have the lowest entry price and you usually get a box of 20 or so that will last you at least a few months. Some models are adjustable to allow for the most comfortable fit of any mouth guard.
Cons: Not designed for long term use and certainly not good for the environment. They are the thinnest plastic of the options provided and so may be chewed through in a few night under some circumstances. It is best to take into account your own grinding or clenching strength before getting a box of these. They are also the most likely to slip out of your mouth or becomes displaced in the night although I have used them for extended periods while traveling and never come close to choking on one. They sometimes just end up on my pillow in the morning. You can find reviews for all the popular over the counter mouth guards here to help you decide if this option is right for you.
Boil and Bite Night Guards
Boil and Bite mouth guards cover only the top or bottom row to prevent your upper and lower teeth from grating against each other. You follow the included instructions, boil the material to soften it and then place it in your mouth and bite down to mold it to your teeth. This allows you a custom fit without needing to pay the hundreds of dollars to have your demist take a form and send it to their lab.
Pros: Over the counter options are much cheaper than going to a dentist while still protecting your teeth. You can expect to spend approximately $20-$40. They also usually come with 2 guards which allow you to get the perfect fit even if you mess one up in the forming process. They are more convenient and easy to obtain as all you must do is walk into a CVS. The material is thinner than custom made night guards, which makes them a little less cumbersome while you’re trying to sleep. Once you mold them to your teeth, you can adjust them yourself to be more comfortable by trimming them with scissors. This option is suitable if you are a slight to moderate grinder, and any protection is better than none.
Cons: Although the cost is lower, so is the quality. The molds are not precise to each tooth; they are not as comfortable or effective as custom-made night guards. Also, because the material is so thin, you can bite through it if you grind hard enough. OTC guards don’t support your jaw, which is strained due to teeth grinding–- in fact, over time they can have the opposite side effect of positioning your jaw incorrectly causing even worse strain than without the guard. Durability is very low–- expect to buy a new guard every few months. You can find reviews for all the popular over the counter mouth guards here to help you decide if this option is right for you.
Custom-Made Night Guards
The next option would be a custom-made night guard through your dentist or a dental lab online. The dentist would simply ask you to bite down on clay for an exact mold of your teeth and then send it to the lab to be recreated in thermoplastic. The Dental Labs send you a kit with instructions on how to take the molds yourself and then you would send them back for them to make the custom night guard for you.
Pros: Going to the dentist will ensure you an exact fit to your teeth that is much more effective and can vary in thickness depending on how severe your grinding is. They are also more comfortable, being so precise, as well as much more comfortable. A bonus is they can be made for the both upper and lower teeth. Because they are so well fitted, they also help the jaw by positioning it correctly and may lead to a reduction in grinding. Their durability reaches a few years which may make up for the cons.
Cons: There will be dentist appointments to pay for. Insurance does not always cover night guards, translating into out of pocket expenses and the hassle of having to go to at least two appointments for a good fitting. The guards themselves are also much more expensive, ranging anywhere from $300-$700. That’s a sizable chunk of change for someone on a budget. Dental Labs are much cheaper but there is always the possibility of messing up the molding process. Fortunately online dental labs are very good about working with you to make sure your mold is perfect before they send you your night guard. You can find reviews for all the most popular Dental Lab Night Guards here.
Possible Dental Night Guard Side Effects:
The side effects of night guards are entirely situational and can be avoided if you choose the correct model and fit for your lifestyle.
If you get a night guards that does not have a proper fit, it can move around or come out during the night, especially if you start grinding your teeth. There also may be irritation to other areas of your mouth if the guard digs into your cheeks or is improperly positioned over your gums. The best ways to avoid a bad fit is to use a custom-fit night guard or follow the molding instructions very carefully.
Not the right Length:
The night guards that shift around the least in your mouth are those that fit over your entire top or bottom row of teeth. Guards that do not cover the entire row of teeth are more apt to shift around because they don’t have a sturdy base to which they can create a buffer between your jaws when you bite.
Night guards made of a soft plastic or gel material can be prone to dislodging during teeth grinding. Guards made of softer materials can be more comfortable but generally don’t fit as snugly those made from sturdier plastics or acrylic.
Not following Instructions:
Not using the night guard as instructed can make it less effective. For best results wear the guard every night and follow the instructions included on all aspects of its use.
Swallowing or choking:
A fear that many people new to night guards have is that they may swallow or choke on the mouth guard during the night, while this may be possible with the thinnest and lightest of the disposable night guards I have personally used each night guard reviewed on this site over the last 20 years and I have never come close to swallowing or choking on any of them. If you do not get the mold just right or the size does not fit your mouth you may end up spitting the guard out during the night but the worst that will happen is that you will find it on your pillow in the morning. The size and shape of the guards do not allow for any choking or swallowing to happen during the night and I have not worried about this possibility in years.
Tooth Movement and Bite Changes:
The majority of night guards work by offering a layer of protection between the upper and lower teeth. You use a guard that has been custom molded to your teeth that has the least likelihood of falling out during the night. Because of this there can be pressure on your teeth and jaw while wearing a dental device on an ongoing basis. These forces can cause teeth to move slightly, or the forces can cause the jaw to be re-positioned which can change your bite. To avoid this it is recommended that you invest in a new mouth guard at least every few years to maintain a current mold of your teeth and avoid any tooth and jaw movement.
Long Term Use and Sleep Apnea:
One final thing to consider: long term the dental night guard side effects. There are the obvious things, cost, durability, and comfort–- nobody wants to deal with an uncomfortable night guard that isn’t fitted properly so you end up with raw cheeks and gums. However, it goes further than that. Some dentists refuse to recommend them at all, and say it’s just a band-aid to cover an underlying problem. There’s a growing consensus that some teeth grinding is caused by undiagnosed sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is when someone stops breathing during sleep. If the condition is serious enough, it can cause everything from poor sleep patterns to suffocation. Grinding your teeth is speculated to be the result of your brain telling your jaws to move to clear the air passages. Night guards can prevent you from pushing your jaw out, which can make the apnea worse and in turn make the grinding worse as you try to breathe freely. Roll into that the strain put on your jaw and it might make you look twice at using a night guard. Some dentists believe that if you treat the sleep apnea, the grinding will stop. It might be worth your while to look for a dentist who also treats sleep apnea and be sent for a sleep study to be diagnosed.
In closing, weigh out your options carefully, do your research, consider your budget as well as the time and hassle you want to invest. Just be sure to do something to protect your teeth. That way, the next attractive person you walk up to in a bar won’t run away when you smile at them 😉