An occlusal guard, more commonly known as a night guard, is a custom fit, removable appliance worn on either your upper or lower arch to protect your teeth from clenching and/or grinding.
It is difficult to tell whether or not you are clenching and/or grinding, especially at night. Grinding (or bruxism) is when you wear on your teeth from moving your jaw back and forth. Clenching is when you are putting heavy pressure on your teeth by squeezing your jaws together. Heavy clenchers and/or grinders can wake up with jaw tenderness, soreness, pain and/or headaches. Even if it is not readily apparent that your are clenching and/or grinding, your dental provider will be able to detect wear facets and damage on your teeth.
Once it is determined that you show signs of bruxism, having a custom occlusal guard is crucial for the longevity and health of your teeth. Continued bruxism without protection can cause microcracks in your teeth that can lead to cavities and loss of tooth structure from wear and fractures.
Custom fit occlusal guards are made to fit your teeth and your bite. OTC mouth guards often only account for your teeth, but not your bite and can cause adverse side effects like headaches and jaw pain.
An occlusal guard creates space for your muscles to relax and your jaw to separate to prevent your teeth from damaging each other. It also helps to program your jaw muscles to limit the pressure from clenching and grinding.
Sports guards are recommended for anyone participating in any contact sport. They are thicker than an occlusal guard and a great way to prevent dental injury during any sports activity.