Whether you, your other half, family member or roommate care to admit it, half of us involuntarily grind and clench our teeth. Yes, that could mean you’re gritting those chompers right now without even realising. Those of us who seek help from our dentists to address this painful habit will be familiar with the occlusal splint (AKA ‘bite splint’, ‘grinding plate,’ ‘night guard’).
It’s faux pas to have one of these hanging around in the bedroom, especially if you’re entertaining a new flame. Nothing spells sexy like a slobbery, yellow-stained and stinky night guard collecting dust on the bedside table.
But, while these guards prevent irreversible tooth damage from grinding and clenching, did you know that improper maintenance of your night guard could be making you sick?
Thanks to our mouth’s dark and moist environment, night guards are the ultimate breeding grounds for bacteria, yeast and mould. Maintaining good oral health is vital for preventing nasty germs and bacteria from attacking your immune system. It’s these germs that can be found on night guards which can lead to sore throats, nausea, colds, flu, chest infections and even asthma, strep and staph infections. Just to top it all off, your night guard also has the potential to be a reservoir for bacteria that can cause gum infections and promote tooth decay.
And, you may be surprised about the nasties that could be lurking on your night guard right now – destined for your mouth later tonight. Controlling these lurkers can help prevent any further damage to your health, and right now that is what’s most important. Here are seven common things that can be found under the microscope:
Baby got bac...teria. That’s right, we can’t see them or feel them, our mouth is home to microorganisms (otherwise known as oral bacteria). While most oral bacteria do us little harm, there are some species in the mix that can cause disease and need to be kept at bay with daily oral care practices. The two most common harmful bacteria are streptococcus mutans and porphyromonas gingivalis – the bacteria which has been linked to periodontitis.
And no, we’re not talking about your favourite pizza. Around half of us carry a fungus friend called Candida albicans in our mouths, and therefore on our night guards, where it lives quietly, invisibly, often without showing any symptoms. However, when it does bare its ugly head, it may cause oral thrush – a nasty infection that causes white bumps to form on the inner cheeks and tongue. To make it worse, weakened immune defences can help Candida albicans cause life-threatening infections of the bloodstream and the inner organs. Moral of the story? Don’t be in a rush for oral thrush.
Mould: great in blue cheese, kind of a menace in every other situation. Most of us know that mould in our homes can cause health problems including coughing, sneezing, chest infections and pneumonia, but did you know exposure to mould on your night guard can cause dental problems including bleeding gums?
Yep that’s right, not only can it cause dental problems, but mould is never the nice guy when serious infection is around the corner. Kind of like the evil villain in a comic movie, mould reproduces through microscopic spores and grows. If we inhale these spores when we put in our night guard, the spores can cause serious respiratory problems. Right now, the health of your respiratory system is crucial and, for many of us, our night guard is the last place we would check. Furthermore, mould spores can become lodged in mucus membranes – the delicate lining of the nose, mouth, throat and sinus – irritating the membranes and causing a burning sensation and bleeding.
For anyone who has their allergy specialist saved in their phone, it might feel like mucus is ruining your social life. And it probably is, sneezy.
Our bodies can produce up to a litre of this gooey substance every day. And when we’re sick, we make even more mucus, it becomes thicker and congregates on night guards. In a healthy and well-functioning body, mucus is clear. However, if you notice your mucus changing colour, it could mean that something more sinister is occurring. Here’s what the colour of your mucus may indicate:
- Cloudy or white mucus is a sign of a cold.
- Yellow or green mucus is a sign of a bacterial infection.
- Brown or orange mucus is a sign of dried red blood cells and inflammation.
Plaque and Tartar
Just like Bonnie and Clyde, this infamous duo will cling to your night guard like there’s bank money to be made. Even if you take great care of your teeth at home, you still have plaque in your mouth which will spread to your night guard.
Plaque is a sticky substance made from leftover food particles and salvia. This is problematic when left for too long because plaque contains bacteria, which can contribute to tooth decay and gum disease. In addition, dental plaque that remains on your teeth for several days hardens and turns into a substance called tartar, which must be scraped off your teeth by your hygienist.
Tartar is what makes your teeth look yellow and smell bad, so it’s no surprise that your night guard may also turn yellow and smell like something that should have been removed from your refrigerator three weeks ago.
Need an excuse to get out of work for a while? Cue this flesh-eating infection that’s 100 per cent guaranteed to get you a doctor’s certificate. A staph infection is caused by staphylococcus (or "staph") bacteria. And, perhaps most shockingly, about 25 per cent of people carry staph in the nose or mouth but don’t have symptoms of an infection. However, if that bacteria does enter the body through a wound in the mouth (for example through bleeding gums or an irritated ulcer), they might multiply and cause an infection.
Staph infections range from a simple boil to antibiotic-resistant infections to flesh-eating infections and can manifest as sore pimple-like lumps on our skin. These infections also spread through direct contact with infected skin, mucous membranes, or body fluids carried on our night guards including saliva and blood.
Ah, strep throat: what anyone heading into holidays dreads. Strep is the nickname for the group a streptococcal infection that most commonly causes a very sore throat (feels like daggers) and fever. Typical symptoms include of strep include:
- A sore, red throat with thick pus-like fluid around the tonsils
- Fever and chills
- Enlarged and tender lymph nodes in and around the neck
- Vomiting and abdominal complaints, particularly in children.
Strep is another nasty that can breed on our unsuspecting objects including our faithful night guard sitting on the bed stand. At least it’s one way to get out of your PT sessions?
How to hygienically clean your night guard
Decade-old methods of caring for night guards – including rinsing your night guard in water, using a toothbrush or soaking in vinegar – just aren’t effective to rid your device of nasty bacteria that could be harmful to your health. So after you wash your hands for 20 seconds, don’t forget to apply the same rules for your night guard. Using Dr Mark’s HyGenie with Dr Mark’s Dental Fresh takes less than a minute to thoroughly clean your night guard comfortably, quickly and thoroughly, giving you peace of mind that you’re helping to keep yourself in peak health.
Shop Dr Mark’s HyGenie Clean Care Kit today and receive free and fast shipping.