What Are Occlusal Guards? Functions, FAQs, and More

If your dentist or orthodontist notices damage to the tops of your teeth, they may prescribe an occlusal guard. An occlusal guard is a removable appliance worn while you sleep to prevent your teeth from getting damaged by involuntary movements like grinding or clenching. Not every dental patient needs an occlusal guard, but it can be crucial for individuals who need them. Introducing a guard may prevent tooth damage and alleviate jaw, muscle, and joint pain.

This guide will explain what an occlusal guard is, how it works, its benefits, and when it may be necessary to get one.

What is an Occlusal Guard?

An occlusal guard is an orthodontic appliance that is designed to protect your teeth from involuntary actions like grinding and clenching while you sleep. Occlusal guards are non-invasive treatment options, meaning you won’t need surgery or any other operative work done.

Occlusal mouth guards are usually made from clear plastic and can be custom fitted by your dentist or purchased from a store. To make sure your occlusal guard fits properly, you will heat it up (either boil it in water or heat it in the microwave) then bite down on the guard. Your occlusal guard will go over your top teeth and bottom teeth.

Occlusal guards look like sports mouthguards. However, you should not try to use a sports mouthguard as an occlusal guard and vice versa. Only use appliances for their intended purpose.

What Does an Occlusal Guard Do?

Occlusal guards re-position your upper and lower jaw to protect you from involuntary movements. This includes bruxism, where you involuntarily grind your teeth. Your guards will not only keep your teeth safe but will also remedy jaw, neck, and head issues that are associated with bruxism.

Occlusal guards are used to resolve symptoms of:

Sleep apnea night guards are specifically made to open up your airway but may not always offer the protection needed against bruxism. If you suffer from both sleep apnea and bruxism, it may be best to talk to your dentist to make sure you’re effectively treating both conditions.

Example of a Night Guard

How Does an Occlusal Guard Work?

You will insert your occlusal guard before bed and wear it overnight. The plastic will serve as a buffer between your teeth when you start to grind and clench. 

While your guard won’t stop you from biting down and clenching, it will do its part to prevent damaging your teeth and your jaw, neck, and head from hurting.

Depending on how serious your bruxism is, your doctor will recommend one of the different types of occlusal guards available:

  1. Soft nightguards – for mild cases of bruxism, your doctor may recommend soft nightguards. Soft nightguards fit comfortably and won’t affect your life might. To mold them, you simply boil and bite.
  2. Dual laminate – for cases that require a little more muscle than a soft plastic nightguard can handle, your doctor may recommend a dual laminate occlusal guard. Dual laminate guards are soft on the inside but harder on the outside.
  3. Acrylic nightguards – for the most severe cases of bruxism, your doctor will custom fit you with an acrylic or “hard” occlusal guard. These may be the most uncomfortable of the bunch, but they’re by far the most durable and effective.

When you wake up, be sure to put your occlusal guard back in its carrying case. It may get lost if you put it in a tissue or leave it on your nightstand. Also, make sure the size fits, as an improperly-fitting night guard can be less effective than one that fits properly.

How Do I Know If I Need an Occlusal Guard?

Your doctor or orthodontist will tell you if you need a night guard, but there are a few telling signs that will let you know before then. These signs include:

  • Fractured, worn-down, or broken teeth, dental implants, and dental restorations
  • Headaches, earaches, toothaches in the morning
  • Jaw pain, soreness, or stiffness
  • Neck or head soreness
  • Loose or sensitive teeth
  • Teeth clenching and grinding while sleeping
  • Trouble sleeping

If you are experiencing any of the above signs, consider speaking with your dentist or orthodontist about a night guard.

FAQs

Do I Need to Clean My Occlusal Guard?

Yes – without properly caring for your mouth and night guard, you may be susceptible to plaque and tartar buildup. Plaque and tartar can cause tooth decay, cavities, and more serious issues if left unchecked.

A Toothbrush and an occlusal guard

How Do I Clean My Occlusal Guard?

You can clean your occlusal guard using common household items, like mouthwash, non-abrasive toothpaste, non-toxic, alcohol-free soap, hydrogen peroxide, and vinegar, or baking soda. Be sure to regularly clean your night guard to maintain your oral health.

What is the difference between an occlusal guard and a night guard?

There is no difference – they are the same thing!

How Much Do Occlusal Guards Cost?

Occlusal guards can cost anywhere from $20 to $1,000, depending on which type you need and from where you purchase your night guard. Thinner guards with less material from the drug store will cost less than custom-fitted thick appliances you order from a dental office.

Are Occlusal Guards Covered by Insurance?

Not all insurance plans will cover night guards. Certain providers may if you can get a bruxism diagnosis from your doctor. Contact your insurance company for more information.

Can You Wear Night Guards During the Day?

If you’re prone to grinding or clenching your teeth while awake, then it may be beneficial to wear your occlusal guards during the day. If not, give yourself a break and save them for nighttime.

Do I Have to Wear My Night Guard Forever?

Once your bruxism is corrected, you will no longer be required to wear your night guard.

How Long Do Occlusal Guards Last?

Usually, you will have to replace your guards every 5 to 10 years.