An occlusal guard is a mouthpiece that protects the teeth and jaw from the effects of teeth grinding (bruxism). These dental appliances most often worn at night, which is why they are more commonly referred to as night guards. However, many people also unconsciously clench their teeth during the daytime and need a mouth guard they can wear during their daily routine.
Occlusal guards come in a lot of different varieties, and at a lot of different prices. A custom-fitted night guard purchased through a dentist typically costs hundreds of dollars. One from your local drug store might cost more like $10. Finally, there are a lot of products and services you can buy online that cost something in between those two extremes.
It’s a good thing there are so many options, because many people have to try multiple night guards before they find one that works for them. What fits snugly in one person’s mouth may be too big (or small) for another. What feels comfortable for me may keep you up at night. When it comes to mouth guards, it pays to shop around. After all, this is a device you’re going to be spending a lot of time with.
Types of Occlusal Guards
There are three types of occlusal night guards. The difference between them is a matter of personal preference and cost.
The custom fitted variety are the most expensive and typically offer the best fit. Typically, a dentist or other dental professional makes an impression of your teeth and sends them to a third party for custom molding. A typical price for a custom fitted night guard purchased through a dentist is $400 or more. This cost most likely is not covered by insurance.
Fortunately, there’s another option for people who want a professionally molded night guard, but don’t want to pay the exorbitant cost. There are companies that provide you with a kit you can use to make an impression of your teeth at home, then send them in for a custom molding.
Boil and Bite
Boil and bite night guards are a lot like the mouthpieces worn by American football players. They’re made of a hard plastic material that softens up in boiling water. You bite down on the night guard while it is still malleable, molding it to your teeth. As it cools, it hardens again in a shape that (ideally) fits perfectly in your mouth. Oftentimes, you have to trim the mouth guard down with scissors as well.
Boil and bite guards are cheap, and can be bought at many stores and at online retailers. The chief complaint about this type of device is that it’s not as durable. Aggressive teeth grinders may chew through one in a matter of weeks.
An adjustable guard is harder than the boil and bite variety. Rather than being molded to your mouth, it can be adjusted to fit via sliders. It durability makes it a good choice for people with an extreme grinding problem. However, these mouth guards also tend to be less bulky, so they’re an option for people who can’t tolerate the restrictions of larger bite guards.
Adjustable night guards are also cheap, but tend to be a little harder to find than boil and bite. You can get them at online retailers.
Making the Decision
Your dentist may try to steer you toward the expensive custom-fitted occlusal night guard. While it’s true that these devices are of the highest quality and offer advantages over other options, be aware that the extra cost doesn’t guarantee that the appliance will fit comfortably. Many people have reported spending hundreds of dollars at the dentist, only to find that they don’t like the way the mouth guard feels. If you don’t like the night guard, you’re not going to wear it, and if you don’t wear it, you’re not protecting your teeth and jaw.
Moreover, the National Library of Medicine reports that occlusal mouth guards can actually intensify teeth grinding in some people. In other words, you could be paying a lot of money for something that makes the problem worse.
With so many other options available, there’s seems to be little downside in trying a cheaper device before paying a lot of money at the dentist. You can find all of the mouth guards discussed here both online and at brick-and-mortar retailers.