Your dentist may have recommended that you wear a dental mouth guard for one reason or another. There are so many on the market these days, it is hard to decipher which one is which.
In What Materials are Mouth Guards Available?
The major difference between most mouth guards is the material from which they are produced. These mouth guards can come in one of three major material categories:
1. Hard Acrylic
Mouth guards made from Hard acrylic are probably considered the standard of care when it comes to bruxism and temporomandibular disorder, or TMD. The hard acrylic mouth guard, or splint, allows your dentist to make minute changes in your occlusion, or bite, without altering your teeth. These splints are normally designed to be worn only at night. Depending on the severity of one’s bruxism and TMD, the dentist may recommend that this type of guard be worn for 24 hour period at certain times. This is something that will be discussed with you at your treatment planning session.
2. Soft Acrylic
The mouth guard that is made from a soft acrylic material. These are similar to the mouth guards that are used by athletes for protection of their teeth during sporting events. In fact, for a more custom fit, these are perfect for those athletes that are looking for a more unique mouth guard experience. For those patients that are not athletes, these can be a great entry level mouth guard for those that have never worn a mouth guard in the past. Evidence is now present that a soft mouth guard, worn during sleep, can actually cause one to grind their teeth. Over a long period of time, this can cause one’s TMD to get worse. This is counterintuitive to the purpose of wearing a mouth guard. Even for those that have severe bruxism and TMD, there is a place for this product in your dental arsenal. If you have never worn a bite splint or mouth guard for any reason, a soft acrylic mouth guard can be a good starter mouth guard for you to use. Remember, however, if you have severe bruxism or TMD, these are not a permanent fix.
3. Semi-Hard Mouth guard
For those that do not have severe bruxism, or are looking to transition to a hard mouth guard from a soft mouth guard, the semi-hard mouth guard may be for you. These mouth guards have a completely hard exterior, while having a soft inner lining. This allows for the protection of the hard acrylic, but allows for the comfort of a soft acrylic bite splint on the inside.
All of these various configurations of mouth guards have their advantages. They also have their limitations. The decision on which mouth guard is right for you will be lain out with you at your treatment planning appointment with your general dentist.
Full Coverage Versus Partial Coverage Mouth guards
Some dentists are advocating the use of partial coverage mouth guards for bruxism and TMD therapy. This can be beneficial in some respects, but has its limitations in others.
If the mouth guard is to be full coverage, or cover the biting surfaces of all of the teeth in an arch, it can be hard or soft acrylic, or one of the semi-hard materials. If the mouth guard is to be partial coverage, meaning only cover some of the biting surfaces in an arch, it must be made mainly of hard acrylic.
For those that need a mouth guard to be worn during the entirety of the day, these need to be full coverage. For mouth guards that need to be worn for only part of the day, such as nite guards, these can be full coverage or partial coverage.
Some of the latest partial coverage mouth guards are the anterior mouth splints. These are to be worn only at night. They are not to be worn for extended periods of time. With these mouth guards, only the front teeth are touching anything. The back teeth are prevented from coming into contact. This allows the back teeth a small amount of time to rest instead of grinding on each other. The reason these are to be worn only for a limited amount of time is that front teeth are not designed to carry a large, heavy load for too long. The back teeth are designed for this and tackle this job much better. For this reason, the front teeth should not bear the load of the entire mouth for too much time.
Fixed Bite Coverage or Adjustable Bite Coverage?
For most applications that your dentist will prescribe a mouth guard, a fixed bite coverage dental appliance is more than acceptable. There are some applications, however, that require adjustable bite coverage. In such instances, such as extreme TMD, or sleep apnea, an adjustable bite splint may be necessary to redirect the forces of bruxism to one part of the mouth to another; or, in the case of sleep apnea, it may be to leave the lower jaw open and forward. By leaving the lower jaw open and forward, this, inadvertently, opens the airway. For those that cannot breath appropriately, an adjustable bite splint may be just what one needs, and could prevent them from having surgery for the same disorder.
In summation, the human oral complex is very complicated. When a mouth guard, or bite splint, is deemed necessary, understand that not all mouth guards are built the same. The type of material utilized in the mouth guard is very specific to its intended use. The shape and adjustability are also very important when choosing a mouth guard. As has been already discussed, partial coverage mouth guards can only be worn for part of the day. Adjustability options may be necessary if treating extreme cases of TMD or sleep apnea. Once again, these options will be discussed with you in detail at your treatment planning session with your general dentist. All symptoms and signs that you may be having associated with bruxism, sleep apnea, and TMD must be discussed with your dentist before the most appropriate type of bite splint can be determined.