Teeth Care

Dental Guard Vs. Mouth Guard: What’s the Difference?

dental night guard vs mouth guard

Have you been recently diagnosed with bruxism (teeth grinding) by your dentist?

If so, they likely recommended that you get a mouth guard to wear at night to protect your teeth.

Yet, if you play contact sports, you may already have a mouth guard that you use for football or boxing. Couldn’t you wear your sports mouth guard at night to save some money?

The answer is no, and there are plenty of reasons for that.

It turns out there’s a big difference between a sports mouth guard and a dental night guard. While you may have heard the term ‘mouth guard’ to describe them both – they aren’t the same thing.

Dental night guards and sports mouthguards have different uses and feature different materials. There’s also a difference in how they fit your mouth – which is why you can’t use them interchangeably.

Read on to learn more about the major differences between a dental guard and a sports mouthguard.

defend your teeth against the daily grind graphic

What is Bruxism?

Bruxism, or clenching and grinding your teeth at night, is a reasonably common issue. While the exact cause isn’t known, it’s speculated that stress and anxiety are the culprits.

It’s most common in children, with studies finding that 6% to 50% of children experience teeth grinding at night. It’s less common in adolescents, with the prevalence dropping to 15%. Lastly, the condition affects 8% of adults and 3% of older adults.

Bruxism is not the constant grinding of teeth during the night. Instead, people with bruxism experience episodes of grinding and clenching. These can range from one or two to up to 100 a night.

You may not even be aware that you grind your teeth at night. Yet, if you notice any of these symptoms after waking up, you may have the condition:

  • Pain or soreness in the jaw area
  • Dull headaches
  • Fatigue from not sleeping well

Contact your dentist for an official diagnosis if you notice these symptoms consistently.

What Are Dental Night Guards?

hard dental night guard for teeth grinding and jaw clenching

Your dentist will likely recommend a night guard to ward off the side effects of bruxism.

A night guard works by placing a gentle barrier between your top and bottom teeth. The guard will cushion the blow and disperse the tension whenever you attempt to clench or grind your teeth.

That not only helps protect your jaw but also shields your enamel. You see, if bruxism goes on for too long untreated, you could wear away all your enamel and lose your teeth.

A proper night guard is custom-fitted for your teeth. That provides the most robust protection from grinding, clenching, and other conditions.

There are a few different types of night guards, including:

  • Soft night guards. These are the most common and are used to treat mild cases of bruxism.
  • Dual laminate night guards. These are soft on the inside but hard on the outside. As such, they work better for moderately severe cases of bruxism.
  • Hard night guards. These are the most rigid and are for extreme cases of bruxism. They also work to treat the temporomandibular joint.

When it comes to materials, they all have to be FDA-approved to ensure their effectiveness. Typical night guard materials include acrylic, thermoplastics, dual-laminate materials, and flexible vinyl.

For the price, a high-quality custom-fitted night guard will cost anywhere from $300 to $700.

If you have bruxism, it’s crucial to use a proper dental night guard. If you try to use a sports mouth guard, you could alter your bite and require invasive dental work.

What Are Sports Mouth Guards?

sports mouthguard

A sports mouthguard protects the mouth from injury during contact sports. Besides preserving the teeth, it also shields the cheeks and tongue from injuries during contact sports – and can help prevent CTE.

The following sports require a sports mouthguard (or mouthpiece):

  • Football
  • Hockey
  • Boxing
  • MMA
  • Lacrosse
  • Wrestling
  • Volleyball
  • Gymnastics
  • Other contact sports

You can buy a generic sports mouthguard from most sporting goods stores. Yet, these aren’t custom-fitted for the features of your mouth – which is why they don’t work as a dental night guard.

There are two types of sports mouthguards: boil-and-bite and generic.

A boil-and-bite guard enables you to ‘boil’ the guard so you can mold it to your teeth. While that provides extra customization, it’s still not a suitable replacement for a dental night guard.

Material-wise, sports mouthguards typically feature polyvinyl chloride or thermoplastics. For the price, most sports mouthguards only cost between $10 and $20.

Closing Thoughts: Dental Guard Vs. Mouth Guard

By now, you should have a better understanding of the difference between sports mouthpieces and dental night guards. While the term ‘mouth guard’ gets thrown around for both, there are apparent differences.

Dental night guards are specifically designed to treat bruxism. They feature robust FDA-approved materials and tend to cost more.

Sports mouth guards are for protecting the mouth from injury during contact sports. They feature rigid materials but are far less expensive.


sentinel mouthguards author
Ashely Notarmaso

Ashely Notarmaso is the author behind the Sentinel Mouth Guard Blog. She is the CEO and founder of Sentinel Mouth Guards (Founded in 2012) Her long-time work in the dental mouth guard arena and her excellent ability to listen to customer concerns in this often contradictory field has laid the groundwork to explore night guard/mouth guard fabrication in-depth and address real concerns. With the help of her team, she has created a unique fabrication method that promises a great fitting custom oral appliance every time. Amazon’s choice for #1 mouth guard! Visit the online store http://sentinelmouthguards.com

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