When it comes to teeth grinding, mouth guard manufacturers claim that they are very effective in protecting your teeth against excessive wear.
Most of these products don’t make bold claims that they actually help people stop grinding their teeth. But, the use of top dental guards has a positive effect, since teeth grinding can damage your teeth and reduce the longevity of your dental restorations.
However, using night guards will not cure bruxism (teeth grinding) or make you stop clenching. Instead, when you clench your jaw, you will be grinding your mouth splints and not your teeth. So, this is still quite helpful.
What is Bruxism?
Bruxism, more commonly known as teeth grinding, is the excessive grinding of the teeth and clenching of the jaw. It is a very common condition, affecting upwards of 20% or more of the US population. It is mostly observed at night and symptoms vary in severity. Sometimes it is difficult to notice, but some early signs of bruxism involve:
- Hypersensitive Teeth
- Jaw Soreness
- Worn Teeth
- Cracked Enamel
- Damaged Filling or Crowns
Why You Should Treat Teeth Grinding
According to Contemporary Implant Dentistry, the average human exerts 28 psi while chewing a carrot and 21 psi when chewing meat (this statistic also depends on how you like your meat!). Bruxers (people who grind their teeth) can exert up to 500 psi on their teeth while grinding! Think of your jaw as a muscle—those who grind their teeth constantly are exercising their jaw muscle, causing it to increase in strength and increasing the pressure on their teeth.
The teeth are not meant to handle this kind of pressure and will wear down or crack under the stress. Aside from the pain and negative aesthetic effects, long-term consequences of bruxism include:
- Nerve Damage
- Joint Dysfunction
- Tooth Loss
- Overly-Toned Facial Muscles
- Jaw Popping or Clicking
If you, your partner, or someone in your family is experiencing bruxism, you should consult your dentist immediately to discuss mouth guards or other available treatments.
Although dental guards are the most common treatment for teeth grinding, they might just be a temporary solution. The reason they are so common is that they are relatively cheap and easily accessible. There is also no need for a prescription.
In some rare cases; however, bite guards could accelerate or worsen teeth grinding. This is usually observed only when bruxism is determined to be a symptom of a deeper health issue. In this case, seeing your dentist and talking about your teeth grinding could really save your life!
To better understand whether or not a mouth guard is helping or hurting you, you first must understand the relationship between teeth grinding and other, more severe issues.
Types Of Night Guards
Mouth guards are a simple and effective solution to preventing the damage to your teeth and gums that bruxism causes. There are three common types of mouth guards. They are worn either at night or during the day for teeth grinding protection (or to help prevent damage while playing sports). Each provides a different quality of protection and comes with a different price tag. Your dentist can help you come to a decision on which one is right for you.
- Stock Mouthguards: What you see is what you get. Stock guards come ready to wear. Just stick them in and get to sleep. They are inexpensive and plentiful. You can head down to your typical sports store and grab one off the shelf for less than $20. The downside is that most are bulky and won’t fit your mouth properly or provide optimal protection. They should still do the trick for mild teeth grinding disorders.
- Boil-and-Bite Dental Guards: This type is a step up in price but offers better protection and fit. Just boil it, stick it in your mouth once it’s cool, and mold it into the shape of your teeth using your fingers and tongue.
- Custom Dental Guards: These are custom-fitted and designed in a dental laboratory from your dentist’s instructions. First, your dentist takes a mold of your teeth, then the piece is fitted over the mold using special materials. These will provide the highest level of comfort and protection, but also come at a higher price. Buying a custom night guard online is also a viable option that may save you money.
Pros of Night Guards
- Easy to find and effective
- Varying price range
- Prevents tooth damage
- Alleviates headaches
- Improves sleep *** if bruxism IS NOT due to sleep apnea
- Alleviates jaw pain
Cons of Night Guards
- Does not treat the root cause of teeth grinding
- Won’t save the jaw from long-term damage
- Difficult to find a good fit without spending a lot of money
Night guards are a great option in the short-term to protect your mouth from the damage that clenching causes, but they are not a long-term solution to teeth grinding. They should only be used once a sleeping disorder is ruled out as the cause of bruxism. If you are suffering from sleep apnea, the guard might actually have negative effects!
Treating the root cause of your bruxism is far superior to treating the symptoms, so be sure to consult a sleep specialist. If you aren’t suffering from a sleep disorder, then a dental guard is the ideal solution.
Already got a mouth guard? Learn how to clean and maintain it so it can last you longer!
Which Night Guard To Choose?
The OTC mouth guards like stock mouth and boil and bite are designed to generally protect your teeth from grinding. But, remember that ready-made mouth guards are usually softer than the custom-fitted protectors prescribed by dentists. The size may not fit your dental condition and may cause bite and tooth alignment problems and worsen your grinding.
Your best option is to get a custom-fitted rigid occlusal night guard from your dentist to avoid future problems.
Bruxism: Is it Actually Sleep Apnea?
Although night guards are the most commonly prescribed treatment for teeth grinding, momentum within the medical world is slowly changing the way medical professionals approach bruxism. Research points to it actually being a sign of a more serious medical problem: sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea: A common condition where a person stops breathing while sleeping. The sleeper will often pause breathing for a short time and then resume with a loud choking sound.
According to research, the brain activates the grinding process in our mouths when it isn’t getting enough oxygen. If the brain senses that the flow of oxygen to the brain isn’t sufficient, it will activate the stress mechanism that pushes the jaw forward to open the airway which then causes teeth grinding.
This is the basic survival logic: if the body activates this stress mechanism, it won’t go deeper into sleep, and if you can’t go deeper into sleep, you won’t suffocate while sleeping.
The Effects of Sleep Apnea
Although a large portion of the population suffers from some form of obstructive sleep and many go undiagnosed, sleep apnea is actually a very serious condition. Short and long-term effects include:
- Daytime Fatigue
- High Blood Pressure
It’s especially important to pay attention to the symptoms of daytime fatigue in children, as it can have a major effect on their performance in school and behavior throughout the day. Children with ADHD should be monitored closely.
It’s for this reason that your dentist should never treat your teeth in isolation from the rest of the body. A dental guard will protect your teeth, but if grinding is merely the symptom of a greater underlying issue, then your dentist is doing you a disservice by putting this band-aid on the situation.
How a Night Guard Makes Sleep Apnea Worse
Bite guards are a very effective treatment for bruxism. When a dental guard is put in place, you avoid the enormous pressure on your teeth and prevent the majority of damage to your teeth, lips, gums, and jaw. However, if teeth grinding is just a symptom of sleep apnea, your mouth guard could be making it worse and putting you at serious risk.
Anytime something is placed in your mouth, it repositions the teeth, tongue, and jaw. Your mouth guard could actually make it more difficult for your body to breathe at night, worsening the symptoms of sleep apnea, and, in the most severe cases, even risking your life. That’s why it’s important to consult with your dentist first about sleeping disorders.
What to Expect from Your Dentist
As I mentioned before, your dentist should consider the teeth in relation to the rest of the body. This means considering sleep apnea as the cause of teeth grinding before prescribing an implant. Expect your dentist to recommend you to a sleep study to discover the extent of your sleep apnea. This option must be ruled out before they prescribe a night guard.
By sleeping with a CPAP machine (a machine that delivers constant air pressure to the body) or through another oral appliance, you can cure your sleep apnea, which will, in turn, cure your teeth grinding.
In short, your dentist should try to cure the root cause of your grinding and not just prevent the grinding from damaging your teeth and jaw. Most mouth guards won’t protect your jaw from long-term damage anyway.
If a sleep disorder is ruled out as the cause of your grinding, then you should turn to a dental guard.
To be clear-the best mouth protectors do one thing-save your teeth from undue wear due to too much grinding. As it saves and protects your teeth, it is advisable that you go to the roots of your bruxism for lasting relief.
Popular Methods to Deal With Bruxism
- Relaxation therapy. Stress and anxiety are the most common causes of bruxism, so it is advisable that people with this condition get to the root problem. You can try these relaxation techniques:
- focused breathing
- a warm bath before bed
All these techniques can ease tension and stress, improve your sleep and reduce grinding of your teeth.
- Dental work. Aside from a custom-fitted night guard, your dentist may require you to go through some dental procedures. If you recently had a crown which is too high, the abnormal alignment may trigger problems with your bite and teeth clenching. Your dentist would adjust it to prevent irritation and to solve the problem.
- Lifestyle changes. Cigarette smokers and heavy drinkers can have increase hyperactive muscle movement at night. So, you may want to reduce your alcohol intake and cigarette use. For better sleep, you can also stick to a sleep schedule, avoid heavy meals before bedtime and manage your worries. These things would keep you from tossing and turning all night. With lesser stress, you will probably grind less at night.
- Medication. If you have Parkinson’s disease or any neurological problem, your doctor can prescribe medications to reduce your teeth grinding at night.
Author: Peter Mayhew
Peter is a dental hygienist in the city of Chicago, IL. In his free time he likes to write blogs and product reviews on anything dental health related.