We all need our precious sleep, so we tend to get frustrated when something keeps us awake. For some, sleeping with a night guard is a big challenge. Dentists typically recommend night guards (also be called an occlusal guard, dental guard, or dental splint) when patients show signs of bruxism. Sometimes, they also recommended this device for patients with sleep apnea.
Many people don’t realize they grind or clench their teeth, because they do it while sleeping. When a sleep bruxism sufferer finds their night guard is uncomfortable, they can be tempted to just stop using it. However, that would not be wise. The guard protects your teeth so they don’t chip or crack under the pressure, and it mitigates unpleasant symptoms such as jaw pain or headaches.
In this article, we’ll help you understand why your night guard might be uncomfortable and what you can do to make it better. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even start to like wearing your night guard.
What Does Mouthguard Discomfort Feel Like?
When you thought your night guard would help you sleep better and wake up without headaches or jaw pain, you can be discouraged to find the opposite may be true. Of course, this discomfort will be different for everybody, but many people report their night guard activates their gag reflex, feels awkward in their mouth, or makes it hard to speak.
It’s very important to make the distinction between discomfort and pain. For example, if your mouthguard causes pain because it’s too tight, creates uneven pressure on your teeth, or causes ulcers and lacerations to your gums.
When forced to choose between wearing your night guard and actually getting sleep, we know that sleep will probably win (as it should). Even if you keep your uncomfortable night guard in and try sleeping with a night guard, you likely aren’t getting sleep restfully. Sleep deprivation and deficiency are linked to heart disease, stroke, obesity, kidney disease, and more.
That doesn’t mean your night guard isn’t important either — the goal is to get a good night’s rest while wearing your guard (to have the best of both worlds, so to speak). Fortunately, it is possible to sleep well with a night guard. I wear one every single night, and now that I’m used to it, I sleep more poorly without it. You can get there too, but it may take some time and problem-solving.
Related Article: Why Do My Teeth Hurt When I Wake Up?
Why Do Some Nightguards Feel Uncomfortable?
Again, if you’re experiencing pain rather than discomfort, something could be wrong with your night guard — speak to your dentist. Discomfort, however, can have a few different causes:
This is especially true if you have an over-the-counter night guard. These are meant to work for everybody, but this option won’t likely give you a secure fit. Plus, a poorly fitting night guard can even worsen symptoms of bruxism and TMJ. A custom night guard, a technician fabricates in a lab using impressions of your teeth, will give you a better fit that is more likely to be comfortable.
Upper vs Lower Teeth
Some people are more comfortable with either an upper or a lower night guard. For example, if you have an upper night guard that causes you to gag, consider talking to your dentist about a lower night guard. A night guard might just fit better on your upper or bottom teeth depending on your mouth’s shape.
Night guards are meant to be tight, so they should fit your teeth snugly. If you’re not used to that tight feeling on your teeth, it can feel very odd.
Adjusting Takes Time
There might not be any specific reason your night guard feels uncomfortable. Some people simply need time to get used to a foreign object in their mouths while they sleep. The night guard may cause your lips to protrude a bit or your tongue to rest in a different spot — changes like that can feel uncomfortable until you get used to them.
Alternative Night Guards to Improve Comfort
Depending on the reason your night guard is uncomfortable, you have options. If you can’t get over the discomfort after at least two or three weeks, consider the following options.
Custom Night Guard
Custom-fit night guards are fabricated perfectly for your teeth and are often more comfortable. They won’t move, slide around, be too big, or be too small. They’re created specifically to fit you, so these tend to be more comfortable than over-the-counter options.
Switch to an Upper or Lower Night Guard
Some people prefer a mouthguard on either their upper or lower teeth, so if you just can’t shake that uncomfortable feeling, talk to your dentist about switching to the opposite set of teeth.
Try a Different Material
Custom-fit night guards can be soft, dual-laminate (hybrid), or hard. People who find a hard night guard too bulky might feel more comfortable with a soft night guard. Those who don’t like the tight feeling on their teeth might prefer a dual laminate guard. These are hard on the outside and soft on the inside. Another option is a hard thermoplastic guard that softens under hot water to help get that perfect fit every time.
If you find your soft night guard feels uncomfortable, especially if it makes you chew or bite down more, you could benefit from trying a dual-laminate or hard night guard.
Reduce the Thickness
Night guards often feel uncomfortable or bulky because of their inherent thickness. If your bruxism is severe, your dentist may have prescribed a very thick guard, making it even thicker and more difficult to sleep with.
If this is the case, talk to your dentist about a thinner night guard. However, be aware that this could mean you’ll have to replace your night guard more often (your grinding will wear it down faster). You could even opt for an ultra-thin night guard similar to Invisalign — this type is made of ultra-thin acrylic and is barely even noticeable. Again, talk to your dentist so you know a thinner guard will properly protect your teeth.
Strategies to Sleep More Comfortably with a Dental Night Guard
When I first got my night guard over 10 years ago, it took some getting used to (just as anything new does). Now that I’ve used some of these strategies, I actually sleep better with my night guard. If I forget to use it, I just feel off and tend to wake up realizing that I’m clenching my jaw. Try some of these strategies to make the regular experience of sleeping with a night guard more comfortable.
Doing breathing exercises before you go to bed can help you relax and fall asleep faster, minimizing your discomfort as you fall asleep. An added bonus: Breathing exercises are also thought to lessen teeth grinding and clenching.
Put Your Night Guard on at the Last Minute
When I put my night guard in too early, it feels odd, especially if I need to talk to somebody. It makes it difficult to speak clearly, which is frustrating. Putting my night guard on is the last step of my nightly routine, ensuring I don’t walk around for an hour with it in.
Try keeping your night guard in a drawer by your bed so you can pop it in when you’re done with your bedtime routine. You’ll only need to wear it right before you close your eyes and fall asleep.
Related Article: How to Clean Your Night Guard
Your night guard will feel strange at first — that’s just how it goes. Don’t try it for one night and write it off. Allow some time for yourself to get used to this new part of your life. As long as you’re not in pain, give the adjustment period some time.
When to Call Your Dentist
Remember your night guard should never be painful, nor should it cause uneven pressure. Any time you experience pain, that’s an indication something is wrong and you should call your dentist.
Don’t Give Up
Maybe you got a night guard because you showed up to the dentist with a cracked tooth. Or maybe you started waking up with pounding headaches every morning. Stopping your night guard usage is not worth it these issues reoccurring.
It may take some time until you find the right night guard for you and get used to the feeling in your mouth, but the benefit to your oral health is worth it in the end. When you’re working toward a comfortable fit, don’t lose sight of why you decided to wear a night guard in the first place — it protects your teeth, reduces symptoms, and improves your long-term dental health.