Dental appliances fake lookalikes – mouthguards, aligners, retainers, whitening trays and dental splints

Mouthguards, aligners, retainers, whitening trays and dental splints – these dental appliances may all seem similar at first but in fact they are not and are all used for different purposes.

All five of them have have two things in common:

  1. They are all custom made from an impression of your teeth to fit over the shape of your teeth
  2. And they are all see through

Now let’s look at each of them and what their unique objectives are.

#1 Dental appliances to protect your teeth: Mouthguards

Aka sports guards

It is commonly seen in boxing and other contact sports.
When playing sports our teeth can be at risk, whilst we are focused on scoring goals or hitting the ball, we need to make sure our mouth is not at risk from sports equipments that could hit us in the face.
In many sports a helmet is used, and should be used wherever possible but where needed in addition it is good to have a mouthguard. This is a thick plastic appliance which typically only covers the upper teeth.
The objective of the mouthguard is to rigidly hold all the upper teeth together, to provide a firm stable unit for you to bite onto and to protect the teeth against impact from external objects. This then means the teeth aren’t at risk of being knocked loose or knocked out of position.

They are typically made using one of the two methods:
1) Custom impression
With the custom impression a mould is taken of your teeth using an impression kit at a dentist or at home. Then from the mould a custom fitted mouthguard is made. The process is to pressure form a thick piece of special mouthguard plastic – typically this can be a plain colour or multi coloured / even customised to a sports team. Then it is trimmed. The final product is a bulky well fitting mouthguard to protect against sports injuries. It fits the teeth in the current position and doesn’t do anything except protect the teeth.

2) Boil and bite
The boil and bite one is typically bought in a store and again the instructions are quite easy, to follow the guidance on the packet in the warm water then biting in position, then cooling. These ones however can often not fit properly due to errors in the moulding process (its a heated fit, so if movement occurs during the moulding it won’t be accurate and then the mouthguard could be loose.
If the mouthguard is loose it would then not be protecting your teeth in a sports accident, so it’s important to make sure you have a well fitting one.
These dental appliances should be kept clean with an aligner or mouthguard cleaning solution / tablet and then replaced when they are no longer fitting or damaged.

#2 Dental appliances to straighten your teeth: Aligners

Aka clear braces, clear aligners, invisible aligners

If you want to straighten your teeth then clear aligners are a brilliant discreet and rapid solution.
The aligners work in a set, the set provides a course of treatment to straighten your teeth and by changing to a new aligner every few weeks that’s how your smile progressively transforms.
Each aligner by itself is active, this means it acts to move the teeth, other appliances like mouthguards, retainers, whitening trays and splints are passive meaning they don’t exert any force on the teeth to cause movement.
Aligners are produced using 3D printed technology and printing to fit perfectly over the shape of your teeth and move them in the programmed way.
To get there you need impressions of your teeth that are then digitised.
They can align your teeth in their ideal position and are great to correct wonky, gappy or crooked teeth.
Typically each aligner is worn for 22 hours a day this is so that they can provide a force on the teeth for long enough to move the teeth -the active pressure from the aligner means the bone and support around the teeth can remodel and the teeth can move.
There are two active parts to wearing the aligner – moving the teeth and stabilising the teeth. The stabilising is equally important as we need the support around the teeth to stabilise then the movement can continue in a lasting way.
This is also why sometimes you don’t feel pressure on the aligner (as the tooth already moved) but it is still working (holding the tooth in the new position). Once the teeth have all been moved to the new position it’s time for the next appliance…

#3 Dental appliances to keep your teeth straight: Retainers

Aka essix retainers

After you complete the tooth straightening orthodontic treatment and your teeth are straight, you want to make sure you keep them that way.
That is what a retainer is used for.
Teeth want to move according to forces that are exerted on them, these forces can be from the jaw muscles or the tongue. The action of these forces on the teeth make them want to move back to the old position (technically the muscles move to close and narrow the arch and then the teeth are pushed out of position.

Short term retention

The best way to think about retainers is you did a course of straightening then you need to do a course of retention. The way to think of retention is the immediate after straightening phase when the teeth need the most support and stability to get them to stay in position – this is where the bone is hardening the most and the teeth need to be kept still.

Long term retention

Then after this key retention period is when there is a regular maintenance period, when the retainers are worn at night time. Over time this can be reduced to a few nights a week of wear, but there is always a need for some maintenance and retention.

#4 Dental appliances to whiten your teeth: Whitening trays: Whitening your teeth Aka bleaching trays

Professionally made whitening trays which are used for in home whitening are the ideal way to get a brighter smile.
Whitening trays are made from an impression of your teeth and they are made of a softer material which is often more cloudy and flexible than retainers for example.
The soft material flexes easily and sits over your existing teeth shapes. These often have reservoirs (extra space on each tooth) for the whitening gel to be inserted in.
This space acts to hold the gel against the teeth to help them whiten overnight.
Whitening trays can also be used as fluoride trays to reharden or desensitise teeth, so they are great for soaking your teeth into a product or gel but have no impact on the position of the teeth nor protecting the teeth against grinding.

#5 Dental appliances to prevent tooth wear: Dental Splints

Aka nightguards, teeth grinding splints, bruxism guards, night protectors

Teeth grinding, bruxism, whatever you call it, it’s bad news for your teeth edges, they can get worn out rapidly and your teeth can become chipped and shortened due to the act of them grinding against each other night after night for long periods of time.
Some people have a particular “bite” (the way the teeth meet) that makes them more susceptible to damaging their own teeth and wearing them down (e.g edge to edge bite or crossbite) – straightening can help reduce the effects of teeth grinding by putting the teeth into a less abrasive position.
A teeth grinding splint is a rigid appliance again made from a mold of your teeth, but it is thicker than a retainer, and it covers the upper or the lower teeth (usually upper) and the purpose is to protect the teeth edges from being worn down – as the plastic is less hard than your enamel, it doesn’t damage your lower teeth. This serves as a good way to limit the damaging effects of grinding teeth, which can also lead to muscular pain and headaches (due to jaw/facial muscle tiredness and overuse)

So you can see there is a big difference between all these dental appliances. Make sure you get the right one for your specific needs and sometimes they can be combined, for example if you go through aligner treatment you could use your aligners as whitening trays.

Not sure if this is for you? Read this first to learn more