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Can I Use Retainers and Night Guards Interchangeably?

Various devices can boost your dental health – braces and aligners for straight teeth, dental implants for bone and gum preservations, and even mouthguards for sports protection. And with countless options on the market, it can be overwhelming to keep things straight. 

Two appliances people usually confuse for one another- night guards and retainers. However, this article explores what they are in detail and if they can be interchanged so that you can make informed decisions the next time you visit your Palo Alto dentist.  

Night guards vs. retainers: what’s the difference? 

Although we admit that retainers and night guards are nearly identical, the differences become apparent when you explore their functions. Below are key ways night guards and retainers differ:

Retainers keep the teeth aligned

According to the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), the function of retainers is to keep the teeth in their original position after orthodontic treatment. In other words, it prevents teeth and bones from shifting following an orthodontic procedure. One main distinction between a night guard and a retainer is that the latter is used in orthodontics, whereas the former is not. The retention phase is vital to the success of orthodontic treatment. 

Before getting retainers in Palo Alto, it is good to know the difference between fixed and removable ones. Removable retainers can be worn and taken out by the patient, and they are often made of translucent plastic-like material and wire. On the other hand, a fixed retainer is one that the dentist places on the side of the teeth that faces the tongue, so it’s not visible to others.

Night guards protect the teeth from grinding 

Night guards are used for patients who grind their teeth (bruxism), and they protect the teeth during sleep. Palo Alto dentists may recommend a night guard if they spot any of the following issues in relation to teeth grinding. 

  • Sore jaw muscles 
  • Broken, chipped, or fractured teeth
  • Damage to the underlying bone

You can either buy night guards over the counter or have your dentist custom-make them for you. An over-the-counter night guard must be shaped to the teeth by boiling it, then letting it cool for some time before gently biting into it. If you get your night guard from a dentist, the added quality and comfort will be worth it in all aspects. These night guards are created in a lab from an impression of your teeth. 

At Blue Turtle Dental, we have a digital Scanner to help us create an impression of your teeth fast while making less of an imprint on the environment and it’s virtually painless!

One key distinction between a night guard and a retainer is when and how they are worn. Usually, night guards are worn only at night during sleep, whereas retainers can be worn in the daytime or fixed permanently in the mouth. 

Akin to retainers, night guards also come in different types. They include: 

  • Soft night guards -These are designed for less severe teeth grinding and clenching. 
  • Hard night guards – These are designed for severe or heavy grinding. They are around three millimeters thick and are made from a dense and strong material, which is tough to bite through, but still flexible and gentle enough on teeth and joints. 
  • Hybrid night guards – These are designed for moderate to severe teeth grinding. 

Are retainers and night guards interchangeable? 

For people with bruxism and who also have undergone orthodontic treatment, the idea of employing one appliance for both conditions may seem appealing. But is it possible? 

While certain retainers can double as night guards, the opposite is not always true. If you have an aligner-style retainer, it can be used to eliminate or reduce bruxism as they fit over the entire arch of the teeth. However, fixed and Hawley retainers don’t cover the teeth and thus cannot double as night guards. 

On the other hand, night guards cannot replace retainers. Night guards don’t fit snugly enough as retainers, so teeth retention isn’t a feature they offer. 

Can I wear a retainer with a night guard? 

Your dentist may suggest you wear your retainer and night guard on alternating schedules. However, these two appliances shouldn’t be worn together. Typically, night guards are a bit tougher and can be worn every night. That said, you shouldn’t disregard your retainer in favor of your night guard. Your Palo Alto dentist can help you decide the ideal schedule and advise on the best course of action. 

Final thoughts 

Night guards and retainers may have similar designs, but that doesn’t mean they serve the same purpose. Failure to utilize each appliance as directed can result in your device malfunctioning and even possible injury to your teeth or jaw.

Before using a night guard or retainer for anything other than what they were designed for, consult your dentist.