Grinding or clenching the teeth at night can lead to jaw pain, broken teeth, loss of tooth enamel, facial pain, headaches, and, in severe cases, even tooth loss. Night guards are dental appliances that are worn at night to prevent grinding and clenching so that the above effects can be prevented.
How Teeth Become Damaged at Night
Bruxism (teeth grinding) is a condition in which patients grind their teeth regularly. It can affect people during the day or at night. There is no single explanation for bruxism, but doctors and dentists believe it may be associated with a combination of psychological, genetic, and physical factors that cause the jaw muscles to become overactive.
Bruxism that occurs during the daytime can be a coping mechanism for stress or intense emotions, such as anger, fear, or anxiety. Some people with “awake” bruxism may also grind their teeth as a habit when they are concentrating on something else, such as work or schoolwork.
Bruxism can also occur during sleep. Sleep bruxism that occurs overnight is often the result of sleep disturbances and is considered a sleep disorder. Other sleep disorders, such as snoring or sleep apnea, may also contribute to bruxism by exacerbating nighttime disturbances and disruptions to sleep. Finally, an abnormal bite is another factor that can contribute to bruxism.
Many people don’t know that they grind their teeth at night. There are several signs your dentist will look for in your usual check-up that can indicate bruxism, including tooth damage and missing, loose, or broken teeth.
Other symptoms that you report to your dentist may help with the diagnosis. Be sure to mention to your dentist if you have been experiencing headaches, jaw pain, ear pain, tooth sensitivity, unexpected damage to the inside of the cheeks and lips, or an increase in disruptions during sleep.
Bruxism affects people to varying degrees. In some cases, the damage to your teeth and jaw will be very minimal and you won’t require treatment, but your dentist will monitor any ongoing issues. In other cases, the damage can be very severe and require treatment and prevention. Be aware that severe bruxism can lead to TMD/TMJ and jaw damage.
Steps for treatment may include dental restorations for existing tooth damage, such as crowns, dental bridges, or other forms of cosmetic dentistry. These dental treatments can repair the chewing surface of the teeth and preserve the look and feel of your smile.
Another important aspect of treatment is prevention. A night guard is a dental appliance that helps you protect your teeth while you sleep. They also reduce pressure and strain in your jaw. Night guards may also be referred to as “bite splints.”
Night Guards & Mouth Guards
Night guards and mouth guards are protective devices made from medical grade plastic. They fit around the arches of your teeth (usually on both the top and bottom arches) to create a protective layer that prevents the teeth from grinding against one another. They can be purchased at a dentist’s office or OTC (over the counter).
If you have bruxism, your dentist will most likely recommend having a custom nightguard designed. Although custom-made night guards from a dentist are typically more expensive than OTC options, they tend to be a more comfortable and effective solution overall. Your dental insurance plan may cover some or all of the cost of mouth guards and night guards obtained from a dentist – be sure to check with your provider.
OTC options tend to include “boil and bite” mouth guards that you can soak in hot water and form to your teeth. Meanwhile, mouth guards from your dentist will be created directly from an impression of your teeth to ensure a perfect fit. Mouth guards can also be used for protecting your teeth and jaw during activities such as when you’re playing sports.
Night Guards for Children
Custom night guards for teeth grinding are also used as a preventative tool for children with bruxism. Children tend to grind their teeth mostly after their teeth have recently emerged (baby teeth or permanent teeth).
Often, bruxism that occurs while children have baby teeth has no permanent impact on the mouth, teeth, or jaws. However, once the permanent teeth come in, grinding may become more damaging and require prevention and treatment, including custom-fitted night guards from your dental care provider.
Other Strategies for Preventing Tooth Grinding
There are several other ways to prevent damage from grinding your teeth at night or to prevent grinding altogether.
One way to prevent bruxism is to treat stress and anxiety, which can be a significant factor. Stress management techniques may be a first step, or your doctor may recommend medications to treat anxiety, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. Other options your dentist may recommend include muscle relaxants, physical therapy, counselling, or exercising, massage, or stretching. All of these can contribute to a release of stress and muscle tension that results in bruxism.
Bruxism can also be associated with other disorders. Be sure to tell your dentist about your medical history, including disorders or illnesses such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, or ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder).
Another option is treating sleep-related disorders, including sleep apnea. Devices that correct sleep apnea can also reduce the potential for teeth grinding. There are also devices to prevent snoring that can be obtained from your local dentist’s office.
You can also:
- Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and other stimulating substances before bedtime.
- Keep up with your dental check-ups and x-rays.
- Practice good sleep hygiene habits, such as going to bed at the same time every night.
- Practice holding your jaw in a relaxed position during the day and when you go to bed.
- Ask your family about their history with bruxism, as it tends to occur within families.
- Ask your sleep partner to watch for signs of bruxism such as loud grinding or clenching of the teeth.
Talk to a Local Dentist About Night Guards
If you suffer from bruxism or you’ve been experiencing jaw pain, ear pain, or other potential symptoms, reach out to your local dentist to learn more about night guards. The 123Dentist network includes dentists across Canada who offer treatment for bruxism, including dental appliances and restorative dentistry.