Dental enamel is one of the hardest materials in the world. On the Mohs scale of hardness, dental enamel ranks at a 5. That’s somewhere between steel and titanium. The resilience of the materials that compose our teeth also explains how dental records are able to survive thousands of years of geology and are one of the only parts of the body that can survive catastrophic events intact.
Nonetheless, our teeth are still highly susceptible to the wear and tear of daily life. Our teeth are amazing testaments to the resilience of the human body. Even though we use our teeth every single day, most of us don’t pay much attention to our teeth until something goes wrong.
Bruxism, or teeth grinding, is a very common and widespread condition that can destroy your dental enamel over time and result in damaged teeth and compromised oral health.
Bruxism is incredibly destructive for teeth. According to the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA), untreated bruxism can result in cracked or broken teeth, jaw pain, tooth loss, headaches, and damage to your gums amongst other symptoms.
The best way to treat bruxism is through the use of an occlusal guard.
What is an Occlusal Guard?
An occlusal guard is a night guard designed to cover and protect your teeth from teeth grinding. Nightguards provided by dental clinics are custom-fitted to your unique bite and designed to be as unobtrusive as possible.
While occlusal guards do not stop teeth grinding or clenching behavior, they do provide a protective barrier between your upper and lower teeth, thereby dramatically reducing dental wear.
Why are Occlusal Guards Necessary?
The causes of bruxism are not always obvious. Sometimes a misaligned bite may be the underlying cause. This can be corrected with braces and other treatments designed to realign a crooked bite. However, most of the time bruxism may be triggered by other factors such as stress, sleep habits, and even genetics. In these cases, occlusal guards may be necessary to prevent or mitigate dental wear.
Occlusal Guards vs. Splints vs. Retainers
Occlusal guards are also sometimes referred to as occlusal splints. It is important to understand that occlusal guards and occlusal splints are not always the same thing.
Occlusal guards, also commonly called night guards, mouth guards, or sleeping guards, are a type of occlusal splint.
Occlusal splints are a family of orthotic devices that can be used to treat everything from temporomandibular (TMJ) disorder to bruxism.
Retainers have nothing to do with occlusal guards. Although retainers often look similar, the purpose of a retainer is to maintain an orthodontic patient’s bite and prevent dental drift, or the shifting of teeth. While some retailers, such as clear retainers, may have ancillary benefits for treating bruxism, that is not what they are designed to do.
Occlusal guards are purpose-designed for the treatment of teeth grinding.
The Importance of Occlusal Therapies
Most individuals with bruxism are often unaware of their condition. In fact, most patients only become aware of this issue when a partner tells them or after they notice extensive dental wear. Identifying and treating bruxism early with occlusal therapies is crucial to stop the wearing away of dental enamel and damage to your teeth and gums.
Occlusal conditions, such as bruxism, can disrupt your sleep, leave you feeling fatigued, degrade your oral health, and damage your teeth. In severe cases, conditions such as bruxism can severely impact your quality of life. An occlusal guard can be an effective and important part of an occlusal treatment plan.