If you’ve ever been told that you grind your teeth at night, or if you’ve woken up with a painful jaw, it’s worth having a conversation with your dentist about a night guard. Your dentist will be able to help you determine which night guard is right for you based on your symptoms and the severity. Today we’re going to cover exactly what night guards are, what they do, and the reasons you may need one. We’ll also cover what the process for having a custom night guard made.
Simply put, a night guard is a retainer-like piece of plastic that can be soft or hard and that covers the biting surface of your teeth. Typically, they fit the top or bottom teeth, not both. Over-the-counter night guards are available at your local drugstores, but they take a one-size-fits-all approach. Because no two sets of teeth are the same, over-the-counter night guards likely will not work as well for people who severely grind their teeth at night. However, they can be a good fit for temporary use, or until you can get in to see your dentist.
The second type of night guards are customized and ordered by your dentist, and then created in a lab. Because they’re custom made, these night guards are more comfortable, durable and designed for longer-term wear.
There are three main styles of custom night guards that can be created:
Grinding your teeth at night is something that is largely out of your control. Regardless, it’s important to protect your teeth from any damage that can occur as a result. Here are a few of the most common reasons our dentists may suggest a night guard:
To prevent TMJ – If you clench your teeth at night, pressure is being applied to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This pressure can result in misalignment. If this happens, you’ll likely experience difficulty chewing, pain in/around your ear, and even headaches! A misalignment can also cause articular disk damage, which can lead to disk displacement. This can lead to your jaw unexpectedly locking open or closed which may lead to a trip to the ER.
To prevent chronic headaches – Headaches and jaw pain are two of the first signs of bruxism. However it’s important that you confirm with your dentist that your headaches are in fact due to bruxism. To confirm, your dentist will look at the surface of your teeth. Those who grind/clench their teeth at night often have flatter, smoother looking tooth surfaces than people who don’t grind.
To save you money – While custom night guards can be expensive (depending on what you need) they are a lot cheaper than restorative dentistry, which can cost thousands of dollars. If your teeth begin to show signs of extreme wear (ex: fractures), then you may have to turn to a restorative dental plan, which could include fillings, crowns or implants.
Good news! The process for getting a custom night guard is completely painless. Your dentist will make a 3D scan of your teeth in-office, which will be used to create a mold in a lab. Once the night guard is sent back to your dentist, they will have you come in for a final fitting to ensure it’s comfortable and fits properly.
The final step is to wear your night guard—every single night. It may feel a little strange at first, but after a few nights of wearing it, you’ll get used to the feeling. And of course, the night guard won’t affect your breathing and you will be able to talk normally while wearing it.
If you have concerns about grinding or clenching your teeth at night, please don’t wait and call your dentist to schedule an appointment as soon as possible. Remember, night guards are much, much cheaper than restorative dentistry.