Mouth guards (sometimes called mouth protectors) are important for protecting your teeth and mouth from damage. They are flexible plastic coverings worn over the teeth during athletic activities to prevent injuries such as broken or dislodged teeth, jawbone fractures, cerebral hemorrhage, and even neck injuries. They are also used to protect the teeth of individuals with a habit of grinding their teeth in their sleep.
Mouth guards work well to hold soft tissue, like lips and cheeks, away from your sharp, hard teeth in the event of forceful impact. This is especially important for individuals with orthodontic appliances, such as braces.
Most mouth guards cover only the upper teeth, but you may also use one for lower teeth if you have braces or a similar appliance.
Mouth Guard Options
There are three main types of mouth guards:
Stock mouth guards
These come ready to wear and are inexpensive and easy to find at sporting goods stores. However, their generic size and shape make them uncomfortable and almost useless at protection.
Boil and bite mouth guards
Made from a thermoplastic material, these are placed in hot water to soften them, then placed in your mouth for you to press and shape around your teeth for a more comfortable, customized fit. You can find these at most sporting goods stores, too.
Custom-fit mouth guards
More expensive but effective, custom-fit guards require a dental visit where your dentist will make an impression of your teeth. A dental tech then molds the mouth guard over the model of your teeth. This gives you the best fit and protection possible for a mouth guard.
If you are a teeth grinder, there are special anti-bruxism mouth guards (bruxism is a word for teeth grinding) on the market, or you can talk to your dentist about getting a custom-made one. Many mouth guards double for sports and teeth grinding.
How Long Until I’m Accustomed to My Mouth Guard?
It may not feel natural to wear a mouthguard at first, but it’s important for your oral safety. Just like any protective gear, you will get used to wearing it over time. Talk to your dentist about getting a custom-fit guard. Or ask for an adjustment if your custom mouth guard never feels right.
The same goes for night time teeth grinders. However, comfort is a little more important when you’re trying to sleep with a mouth guard every night. Here are some tips if this applies to you:
Choose the thinnest mouth guard you can find.
Put it in right before you fall asleep to minimize discomfort.
Try a guard that fits on your lower teeth if you can’t stand one on your upper teeth.
Give yourself at least a month before giving up on a mouth guard.
Who Needs a Mouth Guard?
Generally anyone playing a high-contact sport can benefit from a mouth guard. You never know when a ball or someone’s elbow or knee will come in contact with your mouth and cause serious injury. A mouth guard can prevent or reduce injury.
People who habitually grind their teeth can also benefit from a mouth guard. This constant grinding wears down teeth over time and puts you at risk for fracturing, loosening, and loss of teeth. Sleeping with a mouth guard can protect your teeth while you explore other options for stopping the habit.
TMD and TMJ Problems
TMD, temporomandibular disorder, is a jaw condition caused by problems with the temporomandibular joint. This joint basically functions like a hinge that connects your jaw to your skull on the sides of your face just in front of each ear. TMJ conditions often result in pain in the jaw, face, and cheekbones.
In some cases, it is temporary and minor, but sometimes it results in chronic pain that disrupts the quality of life.There are many conditions that cause TMJ pain and disorders. The causes and symptoms vary by the person.
Common causes of TMJ Disorder or muscle pain include:
- Grinding or gnashing teeth (Bruxism): Some people have sleep bruxism which refers to clenching and often grinding teeth while sleeping. Others tend to clench or grind while awake.
- Jaw misalignments such as a protruding jaw, overbite, or other teeth and jaw alignment issues. These are often genetic and sometimes can be treated or prevented with braces.
- Overly active jaw muscles: Some people tend to hold tension in their jaw muscles so they never fully relax. This can result in tension related pain from a buildup of lactic acid.
- Jaw disc erosion: This may be caused by osteoporosis and other related conditions.
TMJ Symptoms and Treatment Options
Symptoms of TMJ vary greatly depending on the cause and severity. Those may include:
- Aching pain in or around the jaw.
- Pain extending to face, neck, shoulders, or ear.
- Clicking or popping sounds when you chew
- Pain in one or both of your temporomandibular (TMJ) joints.
- Trouble opening your mouth wide.
- Tired sensation or facial fatigue.
- Headaches and in some cases dizziness and migraines.
Treatment options for TMJ disorders range depending on the cause and severity of your issues. Usually, your dentist will start with the simplest and least invasive options. Most often the simplest solution is to try using a mouth guard.
Types of Mouth Guards for TMJ Pain Relief
There are a few options depending on your specific issues. Two primary categories include Stabilization splints and repositioning splints.
Patients wear stabilization splints to help muscles and your TMJ when clenching and grinding. These flat splints, or guards, cover your teeth. They help reduce the pain that comes from overuse of the jaw muscles. For tension related TMJ pain, rest is often the best treatment. These mouth guards for TMJ pain relief give your teeth and jaw a break from clenching and grinding.
Patients wear repositioning splints to help correct misalignment. These are commonly used when the lower jaw sits too far back or the upper jaw too far forward. Patients wear these all day at first until the pain leaves. These splints often help with disorders like jaw popping and clicking that stem from flawed TMJ alignment.
Many patients wear a splint or mouth guard for TMJ pain relief at night. Some mouth guards are prescribed for daytime use on a temporary or long-term basis. Be sure to follow your dentist’s instructions to ensure the best chance of success.
Teeth grinding is slightly different from teeth clenching. Grinding is essentially the forceful rubbing together of the upper and lower teeth repeatedly. This grinding can flatten out the natural grooves of the tooth, weaken the tooth as a whole, and potentially even cause tooth loss. Like teeth clenching, teeth grinding may also cause headaches, stiffness, and pain in the jaw.
Mouth guards for clenching teeth
Bruxism is a perplexing condition. It can affect people from all age groups, during the day or night. If you tend to wake up with an inexplicable pain in your teeth, jaw, or head, you might be one of the many that suffer from bruxism. The most efficient method to protect your dental health is to start using a mouth guard for clenching teeth.
Teeth grinding and teeth clenching are two different ways people exhibit bruxism. Most people grind or clench their teeth occasionally without experiencing any consequences. However,
habitual teeth grinding and teeth clenching, which usually happens at night, can be damaging to the overall oral health.
Benefits of Using a Mouth Guard
Oral injury can be extremely painful, bloody, and debilitating. If you regularly play contact sports, you put yourself at risk for suffering real damage to your teeth and jaw. A mouth guard can prevent severe injury that could require extensive oral surgery and healing or cause disfigurement.
Mouth guards can also prevent the wear and tear of teeth grinding, which puts you at risk of tooth decay, tooth loss, headaches, and jaw pain.
Common Questions About Mouth Guards
You can scrub your mouth guard with a toothbrush and toothpaste. Rinse thoroughly and air dry. Store and transport your mouth guard in the container provided by your doctor. Replace it if it ever cracks or doesn’t fit right anymore.
The lifespan of a mouth guard is dependent on the type of use. However, two to three years is common.
No. This has the potential to spread germs. If you have a custom-fit guard, it will not fit anyone else safely.