If you have bruxism, you likely are a teeth grinder or clencher. You might grind or clench at night or during the day. Bruxism can be treated in many ways, but a night guard is a very common and noninvasive treatment. You should first understand the pros and cons of different types of dental mouthguards including soft vs hard night guard to be able to choose the best night guard for your bruxism.
The purpose of a night guard (your dentist may call it a dental guard, occlusal guard, or bite splint) is to protect your teeth and reduce the symptoms of bruxism. Soft night guards and hard night guards are two popular options. The type of night guard you’ll want depends on quite a few factors, which we’ll discuss below.
Over-the-counter Night Guard vs Custom Night Guard
Before you look into the differences between soft and hard night guards, you should understand your options for obtaining either type of guard. You can find custom-fit and over-the-counter night guards.
You can buy over-the-counter night guards at drug stores or online retailers without a prescription. They are available in two varieties: boil and bite or one-size-fits-all.
Custom night guards are fabricated from impressions of your teeth, so they perfectly fit your mouth. Custom night guards are available through your dentist or directly from online companies like Pro Teeth Guard.
In this article, we’ll focus on custom-fit night guards.
Different Types of Custom-Fit Night Guards
Every type of professionally made custom night guard is truly a custom-fit guard: They are all fabricated in dental labs using impressions of your teeth. Regardless of which you choose, you can trust it will fit your teeth perfectly.
soft night guard
A soft night guard is made of a soft material — it’s pliable rubber that is more flexible than the other two options. This type of night guard is typically used for people with mild bruxism or for people who clench but don’t grind their teeth.
hard mouth guard
A hard night guard is made of hard acrylic — it’s not pliable, nor will it feel flexible in your mouth. This type of night guard is typically used by people with more severe grinding and clenching.
dual laminate guard
A dual laminate guard is a third option that you may not have heard of — it’s made of a soft inner layer and a hard outer layer.
Research on Soft and Hard Night Guards
While participation sample sizes have traditionally been low, research can help us learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of each type of night guard and how they affect bruxism and TMJ (sometimes called TMD). TMJ is a broad term to describe disorders of the jaw joint, and bruxism is thought to be one of the causes of TMJ. The following three studies examined the effectiveness of hard and soft night guards.
- Soft night guards were found to be more effective in one study, which found that both hard and soft night guards are effective, but soft night guards were more effective after four months of usage in patients with TMJ.
- Hard night guards were found to be more effective in another study (with a sample size of only ten participants), which found hard night guards were more effective in reducing jaw muscle activity for those with bruxism. The study also found that soft night guards were actually associated with an increase in muscle activity. This supports the belief that soft night guards might encourage people to chew or clench down.
- Soft night guards were found to be more effective in a study out of Al-Mustansyriah University, which found that patients treated with soft guards were more likely to show improvement and were more willing to continue treatment compared to those who were treated with hard night guards.
Of course, everybody is going to respond to different types of night guards differently, and these studies only show trends among small populations. Consider these findings in making your decision, but don’t forget to consult with your dentist.
Other Considerations for Choosing a Night Guard
Properly weigh the pros and cons before making your decision.
- Pros and Cons of a Soft Guard
Soft night guards are often more comfortable, but they may not be as durable. Consider the following pros and cons:
- Many people find them more comfortable
- Might feel less bulky or obtrusive in your mouth
- Might encourage additional clenching, grinding, or chewing
- Shorter lifespan
- Pros and Cons of a Hard Guard
Hard night guards are typically better at protecting your teeth, but they are also usually more expensive. Consider the following pros and cons:
- More durable, especially for extreme cases of bruxism
- Longer life span
- Some people find them obtrusive or uncomfortable
- More expensive
To make your decision, think about what’s important to you as well as the severity of your bruxism.
- Dental Work and Veneers
In many cases, a soft night guard is recommended for those with dental work or veneers, particularly if it’s more of a protective measure and you don’t have a strong history of heavy clenching or grinding.
If you often need dental work or you’re planning dental work in the future, a soft night guard might be better for you. Although it will still be made from an impression of your teeth, the flexible material will allow for a little more wiggle room to any changes in your mouth. Even filling a cavity — a relatively common and simple procedure — can cause subtle changes in your mouth.
However, if you are a heavy grinder, a hard night guard could better prevent chipping and other grinding damage. A hard night guard might be more expensive, but it will be cheaper than replacing your veneers.
- Missing Teeth
When someone is missing teeth, a hard night guard allows a dental lab technician to fill in the gaps from missing teeth, which helps support your teeth and keep them aligned. Without that support, it is more likely that the teeth on each side of the missing tooth will shift or move. Because soft night guards are more flexible, they don’t provide this support.
Thankfully, you can still get a night guard if you need to wear a nightly retainer. You may be tempted to continue to wear your retainer, hoping it will protect your teeth as a night guard would, but a retainer is not designed to cushion and protect your teeth.
Those who will replace their retainer with a night guard should opt for a hard guard. A professionally made hard night guard can function as a retainer because it’s made to fit your teeth perfectly via an impression.
- Consider Your Upper Teeth vs Lower Teeth
If your circumstances point to needing either a hard or soft night guard but you want the opposite, know that night guards can be worn on either the upper or lower jaw. For example, if you only need a retainer on your upper teeth and want a soft night guard, you could opt for a soft night guard on your lower teeth.
Your dentist can help you decide which type of night guard to get if you’re having trouble determining what is best for you. They may also have additional information about why a soft or hard night guard works best for your teeth.
Benefits of a Night Guard (Whether It’s Soft or Hard)
Regardless of whether you decide on a soft or hard night guard, you’ll do your teeth and overall oral health a favor by protecting them with a dental mouthguard.
Both hard and soft guards help relieve soreness in your face and jaw muscles, relieve a sore jaw and even jaw pain, reduce headaches, and protect your teeth from damage. They can also help treat bruxism before it escalates to temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ or TMD).