Using Teeth Guards for Medical Purposes
Dentists often treat patients who may require mouth or teeth guards for medical reasons. A mouth guard is a soft laminate or plastic device that is used to protect the teeth, tongue, jaw, and mouth. Mouth guards are often worn to prevent injuries from sports and at night to reduce clenching and teeth grinding during sleep. Patients who snore or have obstructive sleep apnea may also benefit from special types of teeth guards. Here is an overview of the different types of mouth guards and their common uses.
Types of mouth guards
There are three types of mouth guards. A dentist or physician will prescribe the most appropriate teeth guard based on the medical need.
Boil and bite teeth guards
Boil and bite guards are available at many drug stores and are quite affordable. They are supplied as one general size that the user can manipulate to fit his or her teeth.
The boil and bite guard is made from thermoplastic material. When placed in hot water the guard softens and it is easily molded around the teeth by applying pressure with the fingers. The best fit is obtained by following instructions from the manufacturer of the boil and bite mouth guard.
Stock teeth guards
Stock teeth guards are preformed and are purchased as ready to wear. They are inexpensive and widely sold at sporting good stores and pharmacies. Although they are inexpensive and easy to find, stock teeth guards have some disadvantages. They have limited size options, so, they are uncomfortable to wear and most often are not a perfect fit. Most stock guards only cover the top teeth and offer few options for adjustment. Stock teeth guards are bulky, make breathing and talking difficult, and they offer minimal protection. Dentists do not recommend the use of stock teeth guards because they are not effective.
Custom fit teeth guards
Custom teeth guards are made at a dental office or a professional laboratory based on orders from a dentist. Custom guards are created from a mold of the wearer's teeth and they match their teeth shape and mouth. Therefore, custom guards offer a perfect fit and are less likely to dislodge during sporting activities. Advantages of custom guards include a better fit, better protection, customization based on the medical need or use, and improved comfort. Custom mouth guards are more appropriate for medical applications such as the examples listed below.
Mouth guards for medical conditions
Custom mouth guards are used for managing dental and respiratory medical conditions such as snoring, teeth grinding, and sleep apnea. The mouth guards might all look similar, but they are developed for a specific use.
Mouth guards for sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that requires treatment by a medical professional. People with sleep apnea stop breathing for brief periods during sleep. Sleep apnea literally means “obstruction of breath,” and is characterized by obstruction of the upper airway occurring during sleep.
Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome is the most common form of sleep apnea afflicting many people. This can be caused by airway obstruction due to a variety of reasons, including large tonsils, a swollen tongue, excess tissue and other reasons. Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome can even affect the nasal passages and jaw.
In certain instances a doctor may recommend a mouth guard designed to keep the airway open by retaining the tongue, elevating the soft palate or shifting the jaw. Those who have been diagnosed with moderate to severe sleep apnea are usually treated with a machine called C-PAP (continuous positive airway pressure) that manually blows air into the patient’s nose.
Mouth guards for teeth grinding
Teeth clenching and grinding is a symptom of a movement disorder known as bruxism. Symptoms of bruxism can occur during sleep or while awake. Teeth grinding can cause jaw pain, tooth pain, and sore gums. Teeth grinding may cause tooth damage.
Mouth guards used for treating bruxism are also called occlusal bite guard, bruxism appliance, bite plate, night guard, or occlusal device. Teeth guards reduce contact between the top and bottom teeth to prevent them from damage from the pressure of clenching or grinding.
Mouth devices for snoring
Snoring is a symptom of an illness and it is frequently associated with sleep apnea. Snoring occurs when structures in the respiratory pathway such as the tongue, soft palate, uvula, tonsillar pillars, and pharyngeal walls vibrate during breathing. Oral devices used for managing snoring are called mandibular advancement devices (MAD) or tongue-retaining devices (TRD). They are meant to adjust the position of the jaw and tongue and they are more complex than regular mouth guards. These devices have shown some benefit in people who snore.
Shetty S, Pitti V, Satish Babu CL, Surendra Kumar GP, Deepthi BC. Bruxism: a literature review. J Indian Prosthodont Soc. 2011;10(3):141–148.
Lynn A. D’Andrea. Why do people snore? Scientific American
Lazard DS, Blumen M, Lévy P, et al. The tongue-retaining device: efficacy and side effects in obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. J Clin Sleep Med. 2009;5(5):431–438.