The term “occlusal” refers to the surfaces of your teeth that are used for chewing. When you are damaging those surfaces by clenching or grinding your teeth, an occlusal guard may be recommended by your dentist.
Also referred to as a nightguard, bite guard, or bite splint, an occlusal guard is a removable appliance that fits over your upper or lower teeth. It helps prevent damage to your teeth that can be caused by grinding and clenching, a destructive oral habit also known as bruxism.
An occlusal guard is often called a night guard or a bruxism guard. It protects against bruxism, which is the clenching or grinding of the teeth that happens primarily at night. Because the jaw puts an extreme amount of pressure per square inch on the teeth, grinding and clenching the jaw at night can result in damage to the teeth and painful symptoms of TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disorder. Occlusal guards can be custom-made by a dentist to fit a patient’s mouth exactly, or they can be purchased over the counter. While over-the-counter occlusal guards are less expensive than custom-crafted, they can have a negative impact on oral health if not used properly. Custom-fitted occlusal guards provide patients with better bruxism relief without the discomfort of ill-fitting plastic or metal parts that are one-size-fits-all. Occlusal guards can prevent jaw strain, fatigue, pain, and the chipping or breaking of teeth.
To prevent further damages from clenching and grinding, and to relieve the symptoms of jaw and TMJ pain, requires a very accurate, custom made guard. This bite guard will be constructed with specific and individualized properties to treat your symptoms. The bite guard is worn either on the top or bottom teeth and is made of a hybrid acrylic material that is softer on the inside and harder on the outside. It is a two-visit process to create each patient’s bite guard.
You may be wondering if you're in need of an occlusal guard or nightguard. While occasional teeth grinding or clenching should not be a major cause of concern, consistent, long-term bruxism can lead to pain, broken teeth, loss of tooth enamel, and in severe cases – loss of teeth themselves. For these individuals who experience moderate to severe bruxing, an occlusal guard could greatly benefit oral health.
Bruxism is a fairly common problem. It is estimated that about 10 percent of adults and as many as 15 percent of children are affected.3 This grinding and clenching typically occurs at night, but may also be a daytime habit, and most people are unaware they have the problem. Unless your sleep partner complains about the noise, your dentist is usually the first to recognize the damage to your teeth and raise concern.
Despite the similarity in names, you should not confuse a sports mouth guard with the one designed for preventing teeth grinding and clenching. A sports mouth guard will do more harm than good. It covers the teeth and gums as it is meant to protect them from blunt force trauma. If worn at night, it traps bacteria on the gum’s surface while you sleep since saliva can’t get to the gums while wearing a sports mouth guard.
Saliva helps to neutralize acids that can cause cavities and washes away food particles hence preventing plaque development. Therefore, it is best to consult an oral hygiene professional when looking for a nightguard to avoid damaging your teeth. It is important to note that some nightguards come with holes to allow saliva to access your teeth. Thus, a dentist will provide you with the right design depending on the condition of your teeth.
A nightguard is usually fitted precisely to your teeth and bite because its aim is to protect the surfaces from grinding against each other. Since sports mouthguards are soft and made of a thicker rubbery material they are not designed to fit your bite. Softer material will cause you to chew while sleeping as the brain interprets it to be food. This may cause muscle discomfort and mat prematurely wear through the soft material. If you choose to wear a sports mouthguard at night, it would cause your bite to shift with time. The effect would manifest itself after a while when your bite changes.
An uncomfortable nightguard will likely not go in your mouth as you dread wearing it; hence it will not benefit you. Remember that you will be spending the night with a device in the mouth; hence comfort should be top of your list. If you grind your teeth subconsciously during the day, you should go for a lower mouthguard. It is less visible, and you most probably don’t want to attract attention. Also, if you have a sensitive gag reflex, a lower nightguard is suitable.
The condition of your teeth should play a part in helping you decide the ideal nightguard. Since a custom-made nightguard is made from your teeth impression, you should choose the set that does not have too many teeth missing or crooked. That way, you will have a better fit.
We invite you to schedule a consultation with our dentist, Dr. Zarghouni, to get all your oral concerns addressed at the earliest. Please call Dentist in Houston TX at (281) 880-6666 or reach out through online consultation and we’ll be happy to help.
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