If you have never complained of painful jaws or severe headaches, but lately, you just can’t seem to get rid of such problems, you could have a condition called bruxism. Bruxism is a condition in which you grind, clench, or gnash your teeth. Suppose you do so when awake, it is referred to as awake bruxism, while sleep bruxism is for patients who clench or grind their teeth in their sleep. One of the main causes of bruxism is stress. According to Healthline, the Covid-19 pandemic has put a strain on people’s finances, resulting in more cases of stress. Consequently, teeth grinding and clenching are becoming common in the United States, Israel, and Poland.
According to a study conducted in Israel and Poland, day-time teeth clenching has increased from 17% to 32%, while night teeth clenching has gone from 10% to 36% since the pandemic began. Usually, when it happens at night, you are unconscious; therefore, the effects such as headaches can be hard to point to bruxism. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for bruxism. Although it can be challenging to stop the underlying causes of teeth grinding and clenching, you can get rid of bruxism’s negative effects by wearing a nightguard.
What is a Nightguard?
A nightguard is a retainer-like plastic piece that can be hard or soft. It covers the biting surfaces and can be worn on either the bottom or top set of teeth. Since patients have different teeth patterns, a nightguard is custom-made for each patient by molding it to fit your teeth without the risk of being uncomfortable or unnecessarily bulky. It has many names; therefore, when you hear dentists talk about a mouthguard, occlusal guard, bite splint, dental guard, or nocturnal bite plate, they refer to the same thing.
Importance of Getting the Right Nightguard
Prevent Plaque Development
Despite the similarity in names, you should not confuse a sports mouth guard with the one designed for preventing teeth grinding and clenching. A sports mouth guard will do more harm than good. It covers the teeth and gums as it is meant to protect them from blunt force trauma. If worn at night, it traps bacteria on the gum’s surface while you sleep since saliva can’t get to the gums while wearing a sports mouth guard.
Saliva helps to neutralize acids that can cause cavities and washes away food particles hence preventing plaque development. Therefore, it is best to consult an oral hygiene professional when looking for a nightguard to avoid damaging your teeth. It is important to note that some nightguards come with holes to allow saliva to access your teeth. Thus, a dentist will provide you with the right design depending on the condition of your teeth.
Prevent Changing Your Bite
A nightguard is usually fitted precisely to your teeth and bite because its aim is to protect the surfaces from grinding against each other. Since sports mouthguards are soft and made of a thicker rubbery material they are not designed to fit your bite. Softer material will cause you to chew while sleeping as the brain interprets it to be food. This may cause muscle discomfort and mat prematurely wear through the soft material. If you choose to wear a sports mouthguard at night, it would cause your bite to shift with time. The effect would manifest itself after a while when your bite changes.
Types of Nightguards
The American Sleep Association classifies nightguards depending on the materials from which they are made:
These are made from acrylic and are used to treat TMJ and severe teeth grinding and clenching cases. As the muscles relax, the bite changes due to the lower jaw positioning itself in a healthy centric position. Adjustments to the bite on the guard will help your muscles and jaw relax.Since hard nightguards are made from a firm material, they are the most durable type.
Nightguards can also be classified as:
Drug stores have over-the-counter nightguards that are one-size-fits-all; they are pre-molded to fit any mouth. They also have the option of boil-and-bite nightguards, which have to be softened in hot water for a better fit. Unfortunately, long-term use of such devices causes your bite to shift as they have not been made specifically for the shape of your teeth.
These offer a personalized solution since they are made using the impression of your teeth. A dentist uses professional materials and techniques to come up with a nightguard just for you hence are more comfortable. With the proper care and adjustments, these are durable enough to last for several years.
What to Consider When Choosing Between a Lower or Upper Nightguard
Since a nightguard can be worn on either the top or bottom set of teeth, you might wonder which is best for you for maximum protection against grinding. Some of the factors you should consider when making that decision are:
An uncomfortable nightguard will likely not go in your mouth as you dread wearing it; hence it will not benefit you. Remember that you will be spending the night with a device in the mouth; hence comfort should be top of your list. If you grind your teeth subconsciously during the day, you should go for a lower mouthguard. It is less visible, and you most probably don’t want to attract attention. Also, if you have a sensitive gag reflex, a lower nightguard is suitable.
However, an upper nightguard is usually more intrusive because it is bigger and bulkier than the lower nightguard.
The condition of your teeth should play a part in helping you decide the ideal nightguard. Since a custom-made nightguard is made from your teeth impression, you should choose the set that does not have too many teeth missing or crooked. That way, you will have a better fit.
Five Main Reasons to Wear a Nightguard
Prevent Teeth Damage
Since teeth grinding happens when you are not in control, the more it happens, the more you subject your teeth to loss of enamel. Enamel erosion causes over-sensitivity. As a result, your mouth may barely stand hot or cold beverages and food. Additionally, without enamel protecting your teeth, your teeth become more susceptible to decay. When the decay continues into the hard enamel of the teeth, you are likely to develop infections.
Teeth grinding also causes damage by fracturing a weak tooth and wearing out any fillings. The surface of the teeth can handle the pressure associated with chewing and biting, but the additional pressure from clenching and grinding is not sustainable. As a result, the tooth fractures or cracks. Besides suffering the excruciating pain that comes with tooth fracture, you will have to make trips to the dentists for treatment. Sometimes the dentist can do a filling but you may end up needing more costly treatment like crowns, root canals or tooth loss. Tooth loss can be fixed through bridges or implants.
Prevents Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the jaw and the skull and affects the muscles you use to chew. As you clench your teeth in your sleep, you apply pressure into the TMJ, which can cause misalignment. When misaligned, you develop TMJ dysfunction. The disorder causes difficulty in chewing, pain around and in your ear, and even headaches. You may also damage the articular disk which is irreparable and can cause disk displacement. This can lead to your jaw unexpectedly locking open or closed which may lead to a trip to the ER. Wearing a nightguard prevents the disorder’s development because it eases any tension you can cause on the muscles.
Prevent Chronic Headaches
Chronic neck aches and headaches are usually the first symptoms of possible bruxism since TMJ dysfunction manifests itself through migraines. The tensed muscles in the neck, shoulders, mouth, and jaw cause headaches. However, before you rush to diagnose yourself as suffering from bruxism, you can check that the headaches are indeed being caused by teeth grinding and clenching. One way is to look at the surface of the teeth; if instead of being pointed, they have flattened, most likely, you grind your teeth in your sleep. Another way is to look for a recession of gum and bone which can happen because of clenching. A custom-made nightguard eliminates headaches because you no longer have to tense up the muscles.
A one-size-fits-all nightguard costs $20 but is not recommended because it will be uncomfortable. A dental nightguard custom-made for you can cost around $800, which can seem like breaking the bank for most bruxism patients. However, the amount should not limit you from getting a nightguard. When you compare the cost of a nightguard with the cost of restorative dentistry, the former is cheaper. Once your teeth wear out and get fractures, restorative dentistry will be the only way out for your dental problems. Fillings, crowns, tooth loss, which can be replaced with implants, and fixing your bite are costly.
Seek a Professional’s Help
Unless you visit a professional who can diagnose you with bruxism, it is hard to know if the headaches, tooth sensitivity, or TMJ are due to teeth grinding and clenching in your sleep. Besides, dentists recommend a custom-made nightguard, and there is no way to get that without an oral hygiene specialist’s help.
Klement Family Dental offers a wide range of dental services, including general, restorative, orthodontics, and cosmetic, among many more. Our team will advise you on whether you need a nightguard and treat any dental issues you may have at a fair cost. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.