What is an Occlusal Guard?
Occlusal guards are small pieces of teeth-shaped plastic placed over the chewing surfaces of molars to protect these teeth from being ground down by the opposing teeth and from clenching strain. They can either be made out of a thin sheet of white tooth-colored or clear acrylic material or made entirely of transparent polycarbonate (plastic).
They don’t require any anesthesia, and they’re effortless to clean and maintain since all you’ll need to do is wash them with warm water and mild soap. Even then, it’s only every other day that you’ll need to take the time to clean them thoroughly.
Since these guards are incredibly flexible, they can easily be shaped and fitted by a molding system for your mouth.
In order words, you have to go in for a regular dental appointment where a dentist will make a quick digital scan of your teeth and then send it off via computer software to a lab to generate a custom fit occlusal guard, which will be sent back in the mail within about 1-2 days.
Once you receive this piece of plastic shaped like teeth, an adhesive material is attached to the base that enables it to stay securely fixed over the biting surfaces of molars when chewing or clenching your jaw. This particular material allows for easy removal from the surface of the patient’s teeth while also ensuring a tight seal without any leaking.
What is its Purpose?
An occlusal guard, otherwise known as a nightguard, is worn in your mouth at night when you are sleeping. The purpose of the guard is to protect teeth from nighttime grinding (also called bruxism).
The guard itself is custom-fitted to the exact specifications of your teeth. Your dentist will mold it using either a stone cast of your teeth or by taking an impression of your teeth with a putty-like substance that hardens quickly.
The guard fits over one or more of your molars and generally covers the entire chewing surface. If there are any gaps between two teeth, also known as interproximal areas, tiny pieces of rubber called flanges will be used to fill the spaces.
These are extremely important because they provide extra protection for your teeth and help keep the guard in place at night.
The guard itself is made of either a plastic or acrylic material and can be clear or tinted. Since this appliance will be in your mouth for several hours every night, it needs to be comfortable, hygienic, and easy to clean.
The most significant benefit of using plastic over acrylic is that it does not require special care like using denture cleaner once per week. All you need is soap and water!
Another benefit is that when chewing on ice with the guard in place, there will not be any coldness felt because the heat from your tongue warms up the inside of the guard rather than causing a drastic temperature difference between ice and tooth enamel.
The guard is only worn at night during sleep because grinding your teeth all day long won’t do any damage. It’s the constant grinding that damages teeth. It takes about three to five days for the guard itself to adjust to your mouth, so you’ll need to wear it for several nights before deciding if you like using one or not.
If you don’t like wearing a guard or if you can’t get used to sleeping with one in your mouth, there are other options available. One option is nocturnal bite splints, which are very similar but not custom-fitted and usually don’t require flanges because they fit directly over the back molar surface instead of covering an entire molar region.
If you grind your teeth at least once per week, then your dentist may recommend either using a dental mouth guard or an occlusal guard. The advantage of using a mouth guard instead would be that it’s less expensive than getting a custom-fitted appliance.
The disadvantage is that this type of appliance doesn’t fit as precisely or comfortably as a nightguard does, which means there will likely be gaps between the guard and your teeth where bacteria can enter and cause cavities.
Your dentist would recommend using an occlusal guard instead because they are custom-fitted for you. They are more hygienic since they sit against the surface of your teeth rather than on top of them.
They don’t require any special care outside of regular cleaning (no denture cleaner is needed). Some even come with either antibacterial properties or fluoride treatment to help prevent cavities.
Benefits of Occlusal Guards
There are several different benefits to wearing an occlusal guard. Here are ten of them:
- It prevents the wearing down of teeth, leading to chipped or fractured enamel and tooth fractures.
- It prevents your teeth from becoming misaligned due to the grinding that usually occurs when asleep at night.
- Protects you against bruxism (the medical term for grinding) if worn during the day as well (although it’s not advisable because everyone should be aware of their body language while awake; occlusal guards can act as restraints, in this case, preventing you from having complete control over your movements).
- Maintains healthy gums by relieving pressure points caused by clenching or grinding (used to treat TMJ disorder).
- It prevents the development of headaches by acting as a cushion between your molars.
- It prevents pain in the jaw, neck, and facial muscles by preventing clenching or grinding.
- It prevents snoring when worn at night, otherwise caused by clenching or grinding during sleep.
- Pronounced relief from migraines when worn at night since it takes the strain off the head and neck.
- May slow down the progression of arthritis if worn nightly for an extended period.
- Keeps loose teeth in place that might have been knocked out in case you were to fall asleep without one getting in the way.
The benefits are apparent. There is nothing more to say than wear one! If you find yourself waking up with headaches or a sore jaw from clenching your teeth, then it’s time for you to get one. When the appliance is worn nightly over an extended period, you’ll find that all muscle pains and headaches will go away entirely.
Since many people who experience regular migraines have been shown to suffer from grinding or clenching their jaws against each other, wearing a nightguard can be a preventive tool against this type of pain.