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
  5. References

Night guards are used in sports and activities that involve a high risk of falling. They are also used to treat tooth grinding at night.

What is a night guard?

Night guards are plastic pieces that go over the top or bottom set of teeth. They look almost like retainers. 

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

Night guards are used to protect against the effects of bruxism, or teeth grinding. They provide a cushioned barrier and prevent the teeth from grinding together. 

They are also used to protect the mouth during contact sports like soccer or football, or during activities with a high risk of fall, like skating or gymnastics.

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?

For night guards designed to protect against sports injuries, one possible con would be the user wearing an ill-fitting night guard that may not provide proper protection due to a loose fit. With continuous use, an incorrectly fit night guard could create bite problems and discomfort.

Night guards used to treat teeth grinding also have some risks. In fact, some experts worry that night guards, particularly over-the counter night guards, may make the symptoms of bruxism worse, as clenching or grinding on a wrongly fitting piece of plastic may irritate gums and cause more inflammation. 

There is some research that supports these concerns.1 This makes it all the more important to discuss the possibility of using a night guard with your dentist before purchasing. 

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. 

Possible causes of teeth grinding, or bruxism, include the following:

  • Stress

  • Certain personality types

  • Imbalance in brain transmitters

  • Nervousness or worry

  • Certain medications

  • Caffeine or stimulant use

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.”

When buying a night guard for sports or high-risk activities, it’s important to find one that fits comfortably and provides full protection. Rather than buying a one-size-fits-all night guard, consider meeting with a dental professional or choosing a provider that will create a custom piece based on an impression of your teeth. 

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.