How to Clean Your Night Guard, Because It’s Grosser Than You Think

How to Clean Your Night Guard, Because It’s Grosser Than You Think
Photo: Marmolejos, Shutterstock

When I got my dental night guard, the woman who made the molds was adamant that I only, only, rinse it with warm water every day and occasionally, let the soft bristles of my toothbrush scrape any excess mouth detritus from its delicate features. This would be enough, she assured me. (I was sceptical.) She was also adamant that I never, ever, use toothpaste, as its abrasive nature could scratch the guard’s plastic and compromise the shape.

Which is fair. But what was not fair, was the mess of chalky, calcified discoloration this “care plan” left me with over time. Turns out this bare minimum of cleaning is not nearly enough to keep your dental guard looking fresh.

It’s true, you should rinse your guard with warm water each morning and brush out any lingering plaque as necessary. But you should also deep clean it weekly or semi-monthly, as mouth guards are porous and harbour large amounts of bacteria, yeasts, and molds. According to Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson Bruce Burton, mouth guards have “the potential to be a reservoir for bacteria that can cause gum infections or the bacteria that help promote tooth decay.”

So in addition to daily rinsing, here are various methods to regularly deep clean your mouth guard to avoid bacteria buildup and discoloration.

Denture cleaner: Soak the night guard in over-the-counter denture cleaner for 15-30 minutes before rinsing and air drying. (Results: Outside of the fun of watching bubbles race to the top and creating a fresh, clean taste in my mouth, denture cleaner did virtually nothing to remove built-up plaque and discoloration. Results may have been better if I had done this sooner; my guard needed more than sodium hypochlorite effervescence.)

Mouthwash and water: Combine one capful of alcohol-free mouthwash and enough water to submerge the night guard in a cup; submerge and soak for 30 minutes. (Results were similarly nonexistent as with the denture cleaner.)

Vinegar + hydrogen peroxide: Submerge the mouth guard in a cup of white vinegar for 30 minutes, rinse thoroughly, then submerge it in hydrogen peroxide for another 30 minutes. Hydrogen peroxide is, according to the Target Up & Up brand label, an “oral debriding agent.” According to Dr. Peter Wilk of Grand Avenue Dental Care, oral debridement is “the gross removal of plaque and tartar that interfere with the ability of the dentist to perform a comprehensive oral exam.”

Results: This method removed much more build-up than denture cleaner or mouth wash even if it didn’t look brand new. (This may not be possible.) It looked better, but left a white film in parts.

Mild soap: Apply an alcohol-free soap like Castile soap or dish soap with a toothbrush before rinsing and drying. (In all steps, avoid rinsing with hot water, as it can deform the shape.)

Non-abrasive toothpaste: Brush with a non-abrasive (or, more accurately, low-abrasive) toothpaste made with calcium peroxide or potassium nitrate instead of sodium fluoride. See here for a list of dentist-recommended brands.

Baking soda: Pro Teeth Guard includes making your own paste from baking soda and water and brushing as a recommended cleaning agent. (Results: Meh. Still looks like it could use a date with a tartar scraper. Which I am sure is a very bad idea.)

Clean the case: Don’t forget to clean your humble mouthguard carrying case with dish soap and warm water regularly. Germs and bacteria are hiding there, too.

Moral of the story: Don’t listen to anyone who tells you all your mouth guard needs is warm water, even if they work in a dentist’s office. If you’ve tried several of the methods above and it still looks cruddy, bring it to your next dentist appointment, and they may be able to professionally clean it — or determine if you need a new one. Which I probably do.

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