Occlusal Guards (Bruxism)
What is an Occlusal Guard?
Occlusal night guards are dental appliances that protect the teeth from damage done during sleep – sometimes referred to as an occlusal splint, the night guard may cover one or both rows of teeth. The occlusal night guard is fitted to each patient so that the teeth fit perfectly to limit the grinding (bruxing) and clenching during the night.
What is the Function of an Occlusal Guard?
The purpose of an occlusal night guard is to protect the teeth against cracking due to grinding or clenching the teeth. The occlusal guard, which usually is worn overnight when night-time clenching most commonly occurs, also is useful in protecting against damage done to the surface of the teeth such as scratching and chipping. It helps the jaw relax, which lessens the instances of clenching or grinding teeth.
The occlusal night guard is made with clear acrylic resin that is molded to fit the individual, based on an impression that is taken. It is common that patients are fitted with either the upper or the lower teeth, depending on where the most damage is done. Some occlusal guards partially cover the teeth, while others cover the entire arch.
There are two types of occlusal guards: one that is worn only at night; the other is worn during the day as well. The occlusal guard worn at night prevents major damage to the teeth caused by nocturnal bruxism or nighttime grinding and clenching. Grinding and clenching teeth and jaws most often occurs at night, which is when the most damage can be done. On occasion, I will request that a patient wear the guard during the day in stressful times to limit clenching and permanent damage to the teeth.
If you wake up in the morning with a headache or a mild toothache, these could be signs that you are a candidate for an occlusal night guard. Many sufferers of bruxism have no idea because it occurs primarily during sleep. Although you may not be able to see the damage that clenching is doing to your teeth, a quick visit to my office can confirm that you inappropriately clench your teeth. In addition, if you feel a tightening pain around your gums, it may be a sign that your teeth are loosening from excessive clenching.
An occlusal night guard not only prevents surface damage as well as loose teeth and gum problems, it will keep teeth strong. It also can help relax your jaws and release the tension that causes a dull but constant ache.