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Mouth Guard

What is a mouth guard?

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Mouth Guard explained

Dr. Sarah explains everything you need to know
about mouth guard treatment at the dentist

If you suffer from teeth grinding and clenching or play a competitive sport, then you have no doubt heard and probably used a protective mouthguard. Mouthguards are devices that are placed on the outer surface of the teeth and serve multiple purposes, but ultimately, their goal is to provide protection for your teeth and mouth and stop habits that could be bad for your oral as well as general health.

A mouth guard is an appliance that is worn on the surface of the teeth. It covers the whole set of teeth (either upper, lower, or both), providing protection for these teeth from multiple harmful stimuli, as we’ll explain in a bit.

Are there many types of mouth guards?

Yes. They are generally of the same composition, but each serves a specific purpose. These types include:

  1. Nightguard:

    Dental guard, teeth grinding guard, the dental guard are all various names for the same device. As the name suggests, night guards are usually worn during the night (when teeth grinding is the worst) but in some extreme cases, they can be worn throughout the day. 

    a. Composition:

    The mouth guard for teeth grinding is usually composed of a soft silicone material of various thicknesses according to the extent and severity of teeth grinding. Some dentists prefer to make these night guards from a hard acrylic material so that they don’t affect the jaw joint in the future. They are usually made for either the upper teeth or the lower teeth, according to the patient’s comfort.

    b. Purpose:

    Its main purpose is to prevent the teeth from mashing together. Teeth grinding and clenching is usually related to stress, and the ultimate goal is of course to relieve that stress so that the habit stops, but until then, the mouth guard for teeth grinding is the best solution.

    c. What happens if it is not worn:

    If the night guard is not worn regularly, the constant mashing of the teeth cause wear of the outer surface of the teeth (called the enamel), which in turn could expose the underlying sensitive layers, and tooth sensitivity starts. The constant pressure also affects the periodontal ligament, and the teeth could become mobile in the future. Finally, the jaw joint will ultimately be affected, leading to a variety of Temporo-mandibular disorders (TMDs) such as Muscle pain and dislocation of the disc.

  2. Sports mouth guard:

    Another type of mouthguard is used mainly to protect your teeth from trauma when you practice contact sports such as boxing and MMA.

    a. Composition:

    Unlike night guards, sports mouth guards must be made of hard acrylic material to be able to withstand the hits and trauma. They are made to cover both the upper and lower sets of teeth at the same time, further adding to the support and strength of the device.

    b. Purpose:

    The name says it all. A sports mouth guard is used for teeth protection in cases of continuous hits to the face, such as boxing, kickboxing, MMA among other contact sports.

    c. What happens if it is not worn:

    Our teeth are strong but fragile. Direct hits and constant traumas could lead to breakage and fractures of the teeth, which in turn could lead to teeth loss.

  3. TMJ mouth guard:

    When teeth grinding is left untreated, it progresses into more serious problems such as problems with the jaw joint. These are multiple, each with its own treatment method, but almost all treatment plans include a TMJ mouthguard.

    a. Composition:

    TMJ mouth guards are usually made of hard silicone or acrylic material. The material is not really the issue, but the method with which the appliance is made is the real challenge. Most of these appliances require very accurate bite registration, where the patient bites in a very specific way so that when he\she wears the appliance, that bite is replicated to fix the underlying problem. This can be a central bite, a bite where the mandible is driven forward, or vice versa.

    b. Purpose:

    This type of mouthguard is designed to fix a specific problem or eliminate a specific cause for a TMD, and therefore they serve multiple purposes. Some of these purposes include keeping the teeth apart so the pressure on the muscles decreases, or advancing the mandible so that the cartilaginous disc inside the joint space pops back to its position.

    c. What happens if it is not worn:

    TMDs are a huge and rapidly evolving cascade. They start simple with some muscle pain or some clicking and popping sounds of the jaw joint. If caught early, they can be simply treated with appliances such as a TMJ mouthguard, and some medications and conservative treatments. If the bite guard is not worn regularly, the situation rapidly deteriorates, and your surgery will probably be needed.

  4. Sleep apnea mouth guard:

    Also known as an anti-snoring mouthguard. It is a mouth guard designed specifically to maintain your airways open during sleeping, and thus decreasing or eliminating sleep apnea as well as its symptoms, the most famous of which is snoring.

    a. Composition: It is usually made of a hard silicone or acrylic material, but again the method of manufacturing is the key component. Sleep apnea happens when the tongue muscles relax during sleep, so they slide backward towards your throat and blocks your airway. The sleep apnea mouth guard should be designed to prevent that, and the most appropriate method to do so is mandibular advancement. Much like TMJ guards, the bite has to be recorded with the mandible in a forward position, essentially keeping your mouth open the whole time during sleeping. Some of these devices are ready-made and sold online, but it is better to get a custom mouth guard since it is safer and more comfortable.

    b. Purpose:

    The main goal of an anti-snoring mouth guard is to keep your tongue muscles away from your throat and your airway, maintaining a free movement of air in and out of your lungs. That way, it prevents both sleep apnea and snoring which results from narrowing rather than complete closure of the airway.

    c. What happens if it is not worn:

    Sleep apnea is potentially a life-threatening situation. Your dentist should work in close conjunction with an ENT specialist to correctly diagnose the condition and prepare a treatment plan suitable for you. A snoring mouth guard is the first step and least invasive treatment approach, and if it is not worn properly according to instructions, more aggressive treatments such as CPAP devices and even surgeries could be needed.



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How is a mouth guard made?

Some mouth guards can be ready made and sold online or in a pharmacy or a local convenience store, such as sleep apnea mouth guards. While these can do the trick, they can be quite uncomfortable, and certainly not as effective as a custom mouthguard. All custom mouthguards are made the same way, with minor variations to accommodate their purpose. It goes as follows:

  • The first step is accurate diagnosis of the problem, and formulating a treatment path. This needs a variety of doctors and specialists, such as a general dentist, an oral surgeon, and even an ENT specialist in some cases.

  • An impression of the patient’s teeth is taken, either for the upper teeth or the lower teeth or both, according to which type of mouthguard will be made. The impression could be taken the old-fashioned way using the gooey impression material, or digitally with a specialized camera. It is then sent to the lab.

  •  In cases where bite registration is needed (such as with TMJ guards or snoring mouth guards as we explained before), the dentist records the patients bite. Again this can be done with wax or any other bite registration material, or with the same camera used for the impression if the dentist’s office is digital. The patient is made to bite either centrally, or advancing the mandible forward as needed. That bite registration is also sent to the lab.

  • The lab pours in the impression in stone-making stone models or casts and uses the bite registration to mount the casts on a device called an articulator, which can move in a hinge-like motion, much like the movement of the jaw joint.

  • For soft silicone mouth guards, a vacuum machine is used to lower a sheet of silicone on the cast, so that the mouth guard has no bubbles in it when returned to the patient.
  •   If a hard acrylic mouth guard type is needed, the acrylic comes in the form of mixable powder and liquid, and applied in layers until the whole device is built. Recently, 3D printers and milling machines have been introduced as an alternative to that technique.

  •  After final adjustments and polishing, the device is returned to the dentist who then delivers it to the patient with instructions on how and when to use it.

Although there are different types of mouth guards, they are all made basically the same way and serve mainly the same function, and that is stopping a habit or altering a situation that could in the future carry very serious risks to your teeth as well as your jaws and overall health.

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Get even more savvy with our FAQ'S

Understanding your condition is the key to making the right choices for you


There are many types of mouth guards, each with a specific purpose. However, most mouth guards serve to stop a damaging habit (such as teeth grinding and clenching) or alter a condition that could be dangerous to your teeth and health (such as sleep apnea or TMDs)

No, it is very essential to most treatment plans involving repair of jaw problems or sleep apneas.

If worn incorrectly, or are poorly fitting, a hard mouth guard could harm the enamel of your teeth. So if you feel your mouth guard placed or removed with difficulty, see your dentist for adjustments immediately.

Yes. A night guard (as the name suggests) is designed to be worn every night, all night long since grinding and clenching is usually worst at night, and it often goes unnoticed as well.

A soft night guard is more comfortable, but a hard night guard prevents further problems to the jaw joints in the future. The decision is in the hands of your dentist and depends on how severe your condition is.

A soft night guard made of soft silicone and a minimal thickness of 2 mm is most comfortable.

A night guard should help with the grinding problem.

It depends on the type whether soft or hard mouth guards. A soft mouth guard usually lasts about 6 months before needing to be changed, while a hard night guard could last a few years, but adjustments may be needed within those years.

Every day it must be cleaned under running water and using a soft tooth brush.

Yes you can, but it can cause staining of the appliance.

Because the saliva is loaded with chemicals and minerals, each can be deposited into the material of the mouth guard causing staining. That staining is usually harmless, only esthetically unpleasant.

Yes. Properly designed snoring mouth guards are really effective in stopping snoring as well as sleep apnea.

Snoring occurs when the airway is narrowed when the tongue drops backwards towards the throat, creating a small slit through which the air passes. When the air passes through that slit, it acts like a whistle and the snoring sounds start to arise. A mouth guard prevents the tongue from ever dropping back, so no slit is created and therefore no snoring and no sleep apnea.

If you’re looking for a quick fix, ready-made snore guards are available online, but we recommend a custom made appliance for maximum comfort and efficiency

Yes, they can be the first step towards treating a TMJ disorder

They differ according to the purpose and the cause of the problem. A simple teeth grinding guard could be all you need, or a mandibular advancement splint if the problem is with the disc.

Again it differs according to the case, but they usually can take a few months before beginning to show their effects.

Whichever is more comfortable for you, they both work the same way.

It doesn’t stop the habit itself as that is related to stress, but it stops the damaging effects of the habit and prevents damage and wear to the teeth.

A mouth guard for teeth grinding is usually made of a soft silicone material.

Soft mouth guards tend to invite more clenching and grinding, which is why some dentists don’t prefer them and use a hard acrylic mouth guard.

According to the purpose and composition, mouth guards could cost between $180 and $260.

Yes for sure. They are more comfortable and more geared towards solving your specific problem, so should be more effective and efficient.

An impression of your teeth is taken (along with a bite registration if needed) and sent to the lab. The lab pours in the impression and mounts it on an articulator to simulate jaw movements. These casts are then used as a basis to form a mouth guard that is custom to the size of your teeth and mouth.

Soft guards last about 6 months, while hard guards could last a few years.

Usually about a week or less from start to finish, and even less than that if a digital approach is used.

Yes, they can maintain the airway open and so could stop sleep apnea.

A sports mouth guard usually ranges in the price of $100 – $260.

They should be removed after the sporting session is finished and cleaned under running water. At home, they can be cleaned with a soft toothbrush, or soaked in a diluted mouth wash basin.

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