Retainer vs. Mouth Guard vs. Night Guard: Which Is Right for You?

At Newtown Dentistry, we get a lot of questions from our patients about the differences between retainers, mouth guards, and night guards. Many patients are unclear as to the purpose of each, and some patients think they are interchangeable. While they may seem similar and are all geared at protecting your teeth, each of these dental devices serves a different, unique purpose and is designed to address specific dental concerns. Our orthodontists have provided many patients with these devices and know when to recommend a night guard vs. a retainer and a night guard vs. a mouth guard.

 Young orthodontist patient in dental chair in office. Generally speaking, retainers hold teeth in place after orthodontic treatment, mouth guards protect teeth during physical activity, and night guards protect teeth from grinding and clenching while sleeping. Below is some more information on retainers vs. mouth guards vs. night guards. Of course, we recommend that you speak to your dentist before using any of these devices so you can be sure you will get the best results.

Retainers: Hold Teeth in Place

A retainer is a removable device that is designed to hold teeth in place after your orthodontic treatment. Retainers are typically used after braces or aligners have been removed to prevent your teeth from shifting back to their original positions. Retainers help keep your teeth in their new, straight positions.

Retainers can be made from different materials, such as plastic or metal, and can be either removable or bonded (permanently attached to the teeth). Removable retainers are typically worn full-time for the first few months after orthodontic treatment and then graduated to nighttime wear for lifetime. Bonded retainers are typically left in place for several years or even permanently. Nighttime wear for lifetime will ensure your smile stays perfect and keeps your teeth looking good.

Mouth Guards: Protect Teeth and Mouth During Sports

Mouth guards are designed to protect your teeth and mouth from damage during sports or other physical activities. Mouth guards are highly recommended for all kids and professional athletes. They are typically made from a soft plastic material and are custom-fitted to your teeth for maximum protection. Mouth guards can help prevent broken teeth, cuts to the lips and tongue, and other types of oral injuries.

 Dental patient being consulted by an orthodontist in the dentist’s office.

There are several types of mouth guards available, including:

  • Stock mouth guards: These are premade, one-size-fits-all mouth guards that can be purchased at sporting goods stores. While they are inexpensive, they do not provide a very good fit and can be uncomfortable to wear.
  • Boil-and-bite mouth guards: These are also available at sporting goods stores and are made from a thermoplastic material that softens in boiling water. After being softened, the mouth guard is placed in the mouth and molded to the teeth for a custom fit.
  • Custom-fitted mouth guards: These are made by a dental professional and provide the best fit and protection. A mold of your teeth is taken at a dentist’s office, and the mouth guard is then made specifically for your mouth.

Night Guards: Protect from Grinding

Night guards, also known as occlusal guards, are designed to protect your teeth from grinding and clenching while you sleep. Very common habits, grinding and clenching can cause significant damage to your teeth over time, including chipped or broken teeth, worn enamel, and jaw pain.

Night guards are typically made from a hard plastic material and are custom-fitted to your teeth. They are worn while you sleep and help to prevent your teeth from touching, which can reduce the amount of grinding and clenching that occurs. Night guards can also help alleviate jaw pain and headaches that are often associated with these nighttime habits.

Making the Right Recommendation: Night Guard vs. Retainer vs. Mouth Guard

Newtown team member sitting in the orthodontics bay.

At Newtown Dentistry, we have a general dentistry for adults, a pediatric dentist practice, and an orthodontic practice—all in one location. We have recommended, fitted, and provided retainers, night guards, and mouth guards for many of our adult and youth patients. After a consultation and an understanding of your overall dental health, our dentists can recommend which is better for you or your family member: a night guard vs. a retainer vs. a mouth guard.

We are committed to helping every member of your family maintain a beautiful smile for years. Schedule your appointment now. Or, call us anytime at (215) 774-5496.


    Newtown Dentistry

  • DATE

    May 18, 2023


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