S.O.S – Save Our Smiles Think you don’t need those pesky mouth guards or night guards?
By Dr. Marc Lazare
It has been well stated that a smile is one’s greatest asset, yet it is not always safeguarded as such. Whether you have all natural teeth, or have just spent a small fortune restoring or cosmetically enhancing your smile, a mouth guard or a night guard may be the best way to look after your investment.
Although mouth guards and night guards have the same basic purpose – to protect your teeth – they are really two different types of appliances with two very distinct functions.
Whether you are a professional athlete, a weekend warrior, or just a participant in recreational sport activities, a mouth guard is a must have. Mouth guards are intended to protect not only the teeth and gums, but also your lips, cheeks, tongue, neck, brain, mandible (the lower jaw), and the temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ).
Both the American Dental Association (ADA) and the Academy of Sports Dentistry recommend mouth guard use for anyone who engages in sports such as football, softball, racquetball, in-line skating, skateboarding, martial arts, boxing, acrobatics, bandy, cycling, discus equestrian sports, field hockey, ice hockey, handball gymnastics, lacrosse, motocross, rugby, skiing, shotput, skydiving, squash, surfing, trampoline, tennis, wrestling, weightlifting and water polo which all run the risk of mouth injuries.
There are several different types of mouth guards, each differing in price and quality. Stock mouth guards are a preformed, U-shape piece of rubber or vinyl that you hold between your teeth. It is inexpensive (and for a very good reason), as the fit is so poor that they are usually not recommended.Mouth-formed mouth guards are available at sporting good stores (as are the stock mouth guards), and they are a step up in quality. There are two types of mouth-formed guards: the boil and bite and the shell-liner. Boil and bite mouth guards are made from a reformable polymer material that you mold to your mouth by softening the guards in boiling water and then forming it in your mouth. The advantage of this type of guard is that it can be reformed. A shell-liner mouth guard is made by using a stock tray and a resilient liner material, which you bite into and wait for the material to harden. Unlike the boil and bite, you only have one chance to make it fit. The last class of mouth guards, and certainly the best, are the custom-fit mouth guards that are made by your dentist, impressions will be taken of your mouth, so that they can be made to fit precisely and comfortable.
A night guard (also known as an occlusal splint, a bite guard, and a muscle relaxation appliance) is a device most often recommended as the first line of treatment for bruxism (teeth grinding) and TMD (dysfunction of the TMJ).
It is usually worn while you sleep to prevent damaging your teeth by the clenching or grinding associated with either the psychological aspects of stress, one’s abnormal bite, a sleep disorder, or a combination of the above. Nightly wear significantly reduces daytime bruxism, because more sensitized, leading to a heightened awareness whenever the opposing teeth are in contact during abnormal function. A night guard can help reduce your grinding and TMJ troubles by: (1) helping to relax your jaw muscles, which in turn reduce muscle spasms; (2) alleviating your headaches; (3) enabling your jaw to find its best position, since teeth are prevented from locking together; and (4) substituting for your teeth when it comes to wear – it is better to grind the night guard than your own teeth.
Grinding can wear away the surfaces of your teeth causing them to become painful or loose. Although maxillary (upper arch) devices are recommended as the treatment of choice, a lower arch device is indicated when a patient objects to having acrylic visible, or when they have a severe gag reflex with the upper arch device.
Ill devised or poorly adjusted occlusal devices often do not succeed in resolving the problem. The device must be made properly, and maintained and adjusted (if necessary) on routine visits.
Quality mouth guards are relatively inexpensive, and can prevent injury and the need to costly dental restorative treatments. Naturally, the better quality the mouth guard, the more supportive it will be and the lower the risk of injury. However, the greatest risk of all is to not be wearing a mouth guard. As for night guards, it is not enough to simply wear one,
it must also be routinely checked and adjusted. Well adjusted night guards (and the acceptable restoration of affected teeth), will allow a patient the bruxism to live a normal life, without significant tooth wear or other dental-related traumas. Remember, we only get one set of adult teeth, so please protect your smile.