Mouth Guards, Night Guards, and Bite Splints

Mouth guards, night guards, and bite splints are designed to protect teeth and gums from excessive wear or damage, whether it be from sports, a dental issue, or a medical condition. While often used interchangeably, bite splints are different from dental guards, because they serve a different purpose.

What’s the Difference Between a Mouth Guard, Night Guard, and a Bite Splint?

A mouth guard does just what it sounds like — it guards your teeth. Most commonly used by kids and adults who play sports, a mouth guard prevents teeth from getting cracked, chipped, or knocked out due to contact with another player, a ball or puck, or the field, court or rink. They can also help prevent injuries to the lips, tongue, jaw, and face. Mouth guards are especially important for players of high-impact, high-contact sports like football, basketball, wrestling, hockey, and boxing. 

Worn while sleeping, a night guard protects teeth from getting worn down due to unintentional grinding, clenching, or biting. Night guards and mouth guards are collectively referred to as dental guards.

A bite splint, also known as a bite guard, TMJ guard, or occlusal splint, functions similarly to a night guard, in that it protects your teeth as you sleep. In addition to protecting your teeth, a bite splint guides the movement of your jaw, so it lands in its most comfortable and natural position.

How Much Does a Mouth Guard, Night Guard, or Bite Splint Cost?

 Some or all of the cost may be covered by dental insurance if the patient has visible wear on their teeth from excessive grinding or jaw clenching (AKA bruxism). Our team will calculate the cost, and walk you through the breakdown. You’ll know ahead of time what, if anything, you’d need to pay. While we crunch the numbers, keep in mind that a mouth guard, night guard, or bite splint can help prevent bigger issues, reducing the need for and cost of additional dental work down the road.

Mouth Guards, Night Guards, and Bite Splints FAQs

There are three types of dental guards.
  • Custom-fitted: A custom-fitted mouth guard or night guard is considered the best option and what we recommend, because it is the most comfortable and provides the best fit, which leads to the best protection. It is made exactly to your mouth, by your dentist.
  • Boil and bite: These mouth protectors can be bought at many sporting goods stores and drugstores and may offer a better fit than stock mouth protectors. They are first softened in water (boiled), then inserted. They adapt to the shape of the mouth as they cool. However, boil and bite mouth guards do not fit as well as custom-made mouth guards, often feel bulky, and do not work well with braces.
  • Stock or pre-made: These are inexpensive and can be worn immediately. Usually they are made of a foam material. Stock mouth guards do not usually fit very well. They are known to make breathing and talking difficult, making them especially challenging to wear during organized sports.
Bite splints vary based on material and purpose.
  • Permissive bite splints: The most common bite splint, permissive bite splints, prevent the biting surface of the teeth from touching and open up the bite.
  • Non-permissive bite splints: These move specific parts of the jaw, the condyles, into proper alignment.
  • Hydrostatic splint: Used to treat teeth grinding, tension headaches, and TMJ disorders (more on that below), a hydrostatic bite splint is filled with water. When someone bites down on it, the fluid evenly distributes across their bite, causing the muscles to relax.
  • Silicone splint: Made from silicone and used for treating myofascial pain syndrome. 
  • Stabilization splint: Typically used to help patients with TMDs (see below), stabilization splints are made from hard acrylic or polycarbonate.
Temporomandibular (TMD) disorders occur when the muscles, bones, and joints of the jaw and face don’t move together as they should, oftentimes causing pain and discomfort along with chewing, talking, yawning, or swallowing issues. Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders deal specifically with the two joints that connect your lower jaw to your mouth, so TMJ problems fall within TMD ones. Bite splints are often used to treat TMD and TMJ disorders. Common symptoms include:
  • Pain or tenderness in your face, jaw, neck, shoulders, and/or in and around your ears when you chew, speak, or open your mouth wide
  • Headaches, earaches, or tinnitus
  • Clicking, popping, or locking of the jaw
  • Teeth clenching or grinding
  • A change in your bite (how your teeth come together)
  • Limited mobility of your mouth
  • Sensitive teeth without any other underlying dental issue 
Technically called bruxism, most patients who receive this diagnosis don’t even realize they grind their teeth. It shows up as teeth and dental restorations slowly and consistently wearing out, or tooth or jaw soreness. A mouth guard or night guard is often enough to remedy the issue, but excessive grinding can lead to TMD disorders, which require a bite splint (as noted above).
Often found in patients who are under a lot of stress, clenching can cause TMJ issues, because it puts added stress on the jaw joints and muscles. A key difference between clenching and grinding is that clenching doesn’t cause the teeth to wear down like grinding does.
With periodontal disease, aka gum disease or periodontitis, the gums and underlying bone structure of the teeth are compromised, making them more susceptible to clenching or grinding issues. In this case, a dental guard or bite splint may be used to help bolster the teeth. 
After braces are taken off, teeth can shift and move. For someone with a history of grinding or clenching, a bite splint or dental guard may be used in place of a retainer until the teeth are “locked” in their new position.
A missing tooth may be temporarily filled in with a dental guard or bite splint that holds an artificial tooth. This provides a replacement while a permanent implant is being made.
To determine if someone is suffering from a TMD disorder, bite splints can be used in an attempt to relieve mouth, tooth, or jaw pain. If the pain and other symptoms improve, then a TMD disorder diagnosis is probable, and the splint can continue to be worn as treatment.
Taking care of your dental guard or bite splint is important. Doing so will prevent debris and bacteria from creating oral healthy issues and help your investment last.
  • Rinse or brush your teeth before and after each use.
  • Regularly clean the dental guard or bite splint in cool, soapy water. Then, rinse it thoroughly.
  • During your regular dental checkups, bring your mouth guard, night guard or bite splint for an evaluation. Your dentist may also take time during your checkup to give it a thorough cleaning.
  • Store and transport the mouth guard, night guard, or bite splint in a sturdy container that has vents so it can dry and prevent bacteria from growing on it.
  • Never leave a dental guard or bite splint in the sun or in hot water.
We recommend replacing your mouth guard, night guard, or bite splint immediately if it shows signs of wear, is damaged, or becomes ill fitting. Note that children and teens may need to replace their dental guards or bite splints more often because their mouths are still growing and changing. Not sure if a dental guard or bite splint needs replacing? Ask us — we’ll let you know if you or your child should still wear it or if it’s time for a new one.