Over-the-Counter vs. Custom Night Guard: Which Is Better?

Over the Counter vs. Custom Night Guard: Which Is Better?
Author: Espire Dental Posted: August 22nd, 2022 Category:

Do you want to reduce the pain and tooth damage caused by nighttime teeth grinding? A mouthguard can help. Learn the difference between over-the-counter and custom night guards below.

Do you wake up in the morning with a headache or a sore jaw? You may suffer from a common condition known as bruxism or nighttime teeth grinding and clenching.

You may not even be aware you grind your teeth during the night, except for the pain you feel upon waking. Without treatment, bruxism can lead to chipped teeth and erosion of the enamel protecting your teeth. The good news is that bruxism can be treated with either a custom-made or over-the-counter (OTC) night guard.

What is a night guard?

Also called mouthguards, occlusal guards, dental guards, nocturnal bite plants, or bite splints, night guards look like a retainer that slips over the bottom or top teeth. The devices can be made of either soft or hard plastic. 

When fitted along the teeth, the guard prevents tooth damage from the constant nighttime teeth grinding. Bruxism can be attributed to several causes, including anxiety, stress, an abnormal bite, or misaligned teeth. Sleep apnea and snoring can also accompany teeth grinding. Alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine use are other possible causes.

Whatever the reason, night guards offer relief from bruxism. The question is: Do you purchase an OTC device or go to your dentist for a custom-fitted one?

OTC vs. custom-made: The pros & cons

OTC night guards are sold in pharmacies or online. In retail outlets, the guards are typically one-size-fits-all, also called boil-and-bite types. You soften the guard (usually by heating it in a microwave) and then bite down on it after it’s cooled to get it fitted along your teeth. For an online guard, you send the company your dental impressions to create an individualized device. Let’s look at the pros and cons of OTC guards:


  • Widely available for purchase
  • Cheaper than custom-made
  • Immediate relief from bruxism pain


  • May not fit your teeth perfectly, leading to more pain and tooth damage
  • Could interfere with breathing during the night
  • Made of less durable, lower-quality materials

To create a custom-made night guard, your dentist takes an impression of your mouth and sends it to a laboratory. Once the guard is constructed, your dentist will check to determine if it fits your mouth correctly. Custom-made guards come with several advantages as well as disadvantages.


  • Fits your mouth better and more comfortably than OTC brands
  • More protection against tooth damage
  • Higher quality materials that will last longer


  • More expensive than OTC guards (note: your dental insurance may cover part of the cost.)
  • Longer wait time for the night guard

You’ll have to decide whether the cheaper cost outweighs the potential drawbacks. But it may be worth it to pay a bit extra to have a custom-made guard that perfectly matches your teeth alignment. With a better and stronger fit, you’ll significantly reduce tooth damage and bruxism-related pain.

Protect your teeth from grinding

Schedule an appointment at Espire’s Colorado Springs location today! Our highly trained dentists can create a custom-fitted night guard to reduce the pain and damage caused by bruxism. Don’t live near our Colorado Springs office? Find one of our other locations near you.

Colorado Springs
8610 Explorer Drive  #315
Colorado Springs, CO 80920