Night Guard Pros & Cons: Everything You Should Know Before You Buy

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Table of Contents

  1. What is a Night Guard?
  2. What are the Pros?
  3. What are the Cons?
  4. What to Look For When Buying

Night guards are medical devices used to treat nighttime bruxism (or tooth grinding). If your dentist notices evidence of tooth grinding, a night guard may be recommended to ensure you don’t keep damaging your teeth as you sleep.

What is a night guard?

Night guards are trays that go over the top or bottom set of teeth. These guards don’t have the same level of cushion associated with sports guards. However, they can protect your teeth from damage if you press your teeth together while you sleep.

Other names for night guards include mouthguards or bite guards. Less commonly, they may be referred to as occlusal guards, bite splits, or bite plates.

What causes bruxism?

Researchers say up to 31% of the general population have bruxism (or tooth grinding). Common risk factors for the condition include the following:

  • Age: The behavior tends to decline with age.

  • Stress: People tend to grind their teeth more when they’re under pressure or feeling anxious.

  • Competition: People who are aggressive and often fighting with others have a higher risk of tooth grinding.

  • Family history: People with parents who grind their teeth are more likely to do so themselves.

  • Medications: Antidepressants can cause bruxism, as can caffeine and tobacco.

  • Medical issues: People who have epilepsy, sleep disorders, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and gastrointestinal conditions are more likely to grind their teeth.

What are the pros of using a night guard?

For contact and high-risk sports, the biggest pro of a night guard is that they are designed to protect teeth and prevent dental accidents, which can be painful, expensive, and leave long-lasting damage.

The greatest benefit of using a night guard for bruxism is that the device prevents teeth grinding during sleep and therefore reduces or eliminates the many problems associated with tooth grinding, including these:

  • Headaches

  • Jaw problems, such as tightness in jaw or a locked jaw feeling

  • Fractured, loosened, or chipped teeth

  • Sleep disruption

  • Headaches

  • Neck and face pain

  • Inner cheek damage

  • Increased tooth pain and sensitivity

  • Wearing away at tooth enamel, weakening teeth and increasing risk of tooth decay and gum problems

Other pros of using a night guard include the following:

  • They’re easily removable, which makes them convenient.

  • Many night guards are relatively affordable.

  • They can be customized to the teeth for a comfortable fit.

  • Some dental insurance plans cover a fitted mouth guard device.

What are the cons of using a night guard?

​​One of the most significant cons of night guards may be that they don’t treat the root of the problem. Many experts see tooth grinding as a behavioral problem rather than a dental or sleep problem. While a safe and fitted night guard may prevent tooth injury or wear in the short term, treating the actual cause of the problem may provide the most effective solution.

In an overview study published in 2021, researchers examined 22 sets of data about oral appliances used to address bruxism. They found that there was insufficient evidence to recommend a night guard over no treatment or other treatment. Studies like this support the idea of crafting a comprehensive treatment plan for bruxism that includes more than just a night guard.

Wearing a poor-fitting night guard can cause problems. In a study published in 2014, researchers examined issues people experienced when they bought night guards from places like online pharmacies (instead of dentists). These trays tend to fit less well than custom versions. Problems reported included the following:

  • Discomfort

  • Gum injuries (including sores)

  • Tooth pain

  • Tooth damage

  • Breaking splints (which can be a choking hazard)

  • Unplanned tooth movement

Anyone who experiences symptoms like this should stop wearing the night guard and seek a dentist’s help.

What to look for when buying a night guard

Night guards are generally available in four fits:

  • Custom: This type of mouthguard is customized for you based on an impression of your teeth. 

  • Boil and bite: These mouthguards are made from thermoplastic. The guard is softened in hot water and then placed in the mouth and pressed down on to shape the bite. 

  • Adjustable: Over-the-counter mouthguards that can adjust to fit teeth with sliding pieces.

  • Stock: These ready-to-wear mouthguards are designed as “one size fits most.”

The safest option for choosing a night guard to treat your teeth grinding is to meet with your dentist, so one can be molded to optimally fit your teeth. This ensures your teeth and mouth won’t be irritated by an ill-fitting device. Your dentist can also help in deciding whether a night guard is the best option for you.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.