If you’re constantly grinding and clenching your teeth or feel that you’re suffering from the painful symptoms of a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), then your orthodontist may recommend that you wear an occlusal guard appliance to maintain your smile and ease these symptoms.
This appliance can be custom-made by the orthodontist, and is typically advised to be worn at night, hence why they’re often nicknamed “night guards”. But do you know how to maintain the occlusal guard that is being worn to maintain your smile? If you’re curious about cleaning your occlusal guard or are one of the many people asking the following frequently asked questions, then read on to find some answers.
You can use the same cleaning methods and cleaners for all types of mouthguards as they’ll sanitize any type of occlusal guard materials. Types of mouthguard cleaners can generally be thought of in two classes: Chemical or Home DIY.
Many of these home solutions are also chemical composites, but ones that are much more readily available around your home, like:
To clean with soap or toothpaste, simply adhere to these following steps:
Alternatively, if you don’t want to use soap or toothpaste, you can fill a clean bowl with equal parts baking soda and water. This will create a paste that you can apply to brush the occlusal guard.
To minimize contamination, let the occlusal guard and container airdry fully, as moisture allows bacteria to thrive and reproduce. You can also clean it yourself, handwashing it every few days with normal dish soap. Do not do this by throwing it in with your plates and utensils in the dishwasher though; the heat of the machine could warp or damage the containers’ plastic.
For a deeper cleaning, done at least once a month, it’s recommended that you soak the night guard in a glass with a disinfecting solution for at least 30 minutes. Mouthwash, hydrogen peroxide, and vinegar can all be used to create this solution, as can dental cleaning chemicals, often sold as powders, liquids, or dissolvable tablets.
To complete this deeper cleanse, it’s essential to adhere to the following steps:
It’s common sense that you should always clean your occlusal guard right before and right after use, clean the container every few days and that you should perform deeper cleanses at least once a month for 30 minutes unless stated otherwise on the cleaner instructions. Still, there’s additional time-sensitive information that you should keep in mind when cleaning and caring for an occlusal guard:
Other than wondering how often you should clean your mouthguard; you might also be wondering how often you should replace your mouthguard. There’s no clear answer to when, but there are facts we can provide to help you make an educated decision on the matter.
The average occlusal guard lifespan is 3-5 years, but some occlusal guards are meant to be worn for shorter terms than others. Additionally, factors like bruxism severity, wear damage, and hygiene can also affect appliance longevity.
If you notice any of the following wear signs, then it’s a red flag that you’ll need a replacement occlusal guard ASAP:
As your occlusal guard is exposed to wet saliva, and all the microbes and bacteria that entails, developing a certain level of natural discoloration on it is inevitable. However, it’s not normal for the occlusal guard to develop extreme discoloration and following all of the above cleaning measures should minimize the odds of it getting to that point. You can’t reverse all discoloration, but you can reverse it from regressing seriously or happening speedily.
The discoloration also isn’t just visually unappealing; it can be a sign that the material of your occlusal guard is weakening and losing elasticity. That’s why adhering to the proper cleaning and care measures is so important.
Likewise, it’s worth mentioning that some of the whiter gunky buildups around the guard could be a buildup of not germs, or just germs, but calcium deposits. Soaking an occlusal guard in a vinegar solution (1-part white vinegar to 3 parts water) works particularly well at getting rid of these deposits. If you follow all of these cleaning and care measures but still notice extreme discoloration and foul odor, consult your dentist or orthodontist.
Of course, it can. According to a study conducted by Sports Health, hundreds of bacterium, yeast, and molds can develop in guards, including staph microbes associated with diseases like:
Extremely unpleasant at best and potentially life-threatening at worst, you do not want to be subject to any one of these ailments. It’s worth noting that this study was exclusively conducted on sports occlusal guards, but these guards are made of similar materials and are subject to the same bacteria forming on them.
It’s crucial to be diligent with these hygiene, cleaning, and care measures to minimize the risk of disease transmission. Protecting one area of your health should not mean putting other areas at risk. Your appliances should not be your mouth’s petri-dish or central infection vector. You can do that by cleaning your occlusal guard as much as possible and consulting your oral healthcare provider for additional support.
Not only can an experienced dentist or orthodontist produce a custom-fit mouthguard; they can also offer you invaluable insights, support, and opinions that you wouldn’t have otherwise.