Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is directly related to stress and can cause a myriad of dental problems. If you suffer from bruxism, you may have experienced earaches, headaches, neck aches, facial muscle soreness, jaw clicking or popping, or sensitive teeth. In severe cases, you may also notice your teeth begin to look shorter, broken, cracked or chipped.
While grinding can take place during the day or at night, nighttime grinding cannot be controlled when sleeping. If you suffer from any of these symptoms, or if your dentist notices evidence of bruxism through excessive wear or chipping away of the enamel at the gum line, he or she may recommend a night guard to protect your teeth from this behavior. Worn at night, the occlusal guard not only protects your teeth from wear, but also interrupts and reprograms the reward pathways that may be responsible for your bruxism.
It’s important to recognize that once teeth have deteriorated from bruxism, it is impossible to undo the damage. Early identification of the problem is crucial.
Store-bought vs. Professional Guards
Patients may be tempted to purchase a night guard online or from the drugstore, but there are many drawbacks to using over the counter appliances. Bulky and uncomfortable, these guards can position the jaw in an unnatural way, causing changes to the bite as well as discomfort or damage to the jaw joint over time. Made of a softer plastic in order to conform to a wide variety of mouth shapes and sizes, they lack durability and require frequent replacement, and can actually increase muscle activity since they still stimulate the reward pathway for stress relief.
The long-term potential for changes and damage to the jaw can become more costly than investing in a properly made custom night guard from the beginning. It is worth the investment when recommended by your dentist!