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There are dental mouth guards for a variety of problems with the teeth and jaw. Mouth guards can either be purchased in a generic form, in a fitted form or custom made by a dentist to fit over the teeth exactly. For conditions such as grinding the teeth or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), a special type of mouth guard might be needed to help keep the jaw in alignment or protect the teeth. Dental mouth guards are usually made from plastic or acrylic and could contain metal guides to help hold them in place at night.
Dental mouth guards can be prescribed for many reasons, though the main one is related to some form of teeth grinding. A great deal of damage can be done to the teeth, especially if the grinding happens at night. A dental mouth guard physically prevents the teeth from rubbing against one another and helps to reduce the pressure that could cause teeth to break. There also are instances in which a guard can be prescribed because there is an extreme risk of physical harm to the teeth from some activity.
For occasional daytime use, dental mouth guards can be purchased over the counter without any custom fitting to the mouth. These can be used to temporarily protect the teeth, perhaps during a sporting activity. A more effective version that can be used at night is a heat-fitted mouth guard. This type of guard must be heated and then worn in the mouth until it has loosely molded itself to the teeth.
In some cases, the risk of damage to the mouth might be so great that a mouth guard will have to be custom made. A dentist will take a mold of the teeth and then fit a material over it. These devices fit exactly over the teeth and offer the best protection from tooth grinding and other damage.
There are some instances where the grinding of teeth, or compulsive biting at night, can actually cause the jaw to become misaligned. Special dental mouth guards called bite splints are used in this case. A bite plate not only stops the teeth from hitting one another at night and relieves some pressure in the jaw but also can be designed to help pull the jaw back into alignment. Dental mouth guards that are prescribed for this reason are usually used in conjunction with muscle-relaxing drugs to increase their effectiveness.