Protect your Teeth from… Yourself. Why you might need a Night Guard

Have you been waking up and your teeth hurt or you have a headache?

If so, you may be grinding your teeth at night, and you’re not alone.

According to the Academy of General Dentistry,  one in three people suffer from bruxism (the medical term for teeth grinding).

Though some grinding and tooth wear is a natural part of living, if yours is a more severe case, it’s important to seek treatment – which could include getting a dental night guard.


Because prolonged teeth grinding can have quite a few detrimental effects, including:

  • Loosening or loss of teeth
  • Tooth Fractures
  • Aching Jaws
  • Receding Gums
  • Frequent Headaches
  • Toothaches
  • Loss of Protective Teeth Enamel
  • Jaw Joint Disorders

Because of this, it’s important to recognize and treat teeth grinding if you experience it on a regular basis, as failing to do so can lead to dental emergencies that require significant surgery.

Let’s review some symptoms to help you identify whether you should seek treatment.

Table of Contents

Teeth Grinding Symptoms

Because grinding commonly occurs during sleep, most people are unaware they have a problem or how severe it is.

Often a sore jaw or dull headache when you wake up is the first sign you’ll notice. A loved one might also hear you grinding at night as well.

A few other symptoms to look for include:

  • Ear aches
  • Worn Tooth Enamel
  • Indents on tongue
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Cheek tissue damage
  • Tooth Pain
  • Flat or dull teeth
  • Wear spots on teeth
side to side teeth grinding

Bruxism can also cause or worsen Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMJ or TMD).

The tempromandibular joint connects your skull to your jaw boin and is the part of the mouth that’s clenched when you grind your teeth at night.

If bruxism and teeth clenching are contributing to a TMJ disorder, you may also notice symptoms like:

  • An aching jaw or face.
  • Soreness in your ear.
  • Locking of your TMJ, making opening or closing your mouth difficult.
  • Jaw Tenderness.
  • Clicking or grating when your mouth is open.
  • Pain while chewing.

If you suspect you’re grinding your teeth at night, visit your dentist to have them examine your jaw and mouth.

If your dentist believes you’re experiencing night grinding, they can then suggest treatments like dental guards to address your symptoms and their causes.

Teeth Grinding Causes

Bruxism has a variety of known and suspected causes, the most common are stress, an abnormal bite, and, according to new research, sleep apnea.

Stress and Anxiety

Often night grinding is caused by excessive jaw clenching, which occurs when you close your mouth too tightly for a prolonged period of time.

Clenching is part of the body’s natural fight or flight mechanism that we developed centuries ago. When we’re under stress, our shoulders naturally hunch, our head moves forward, and our teeth clench.

You may have noticed yourself when you are stressed, you may bite your nails, habitually chew gum, or bite objects like pens and pencils, which may be your go-to means of alleviating tension. All of these symptoms are stress related and all are damaging to your teeth.

If you suspect you’re grinding your teeth at night, we recommend avoiding oral fixations like these to avoid exacerbating the problem, even if you get other treatment like a nighttime mouth guard.

woman biting on a pencil

Abnormal Bite or Crooked Teeth

If you suffer from misaligned teeth or an improper bite, you may be at higher risk of bruxism as, combined with your usual sleeping position, misalignments may place your teeth in a position where grinding occurs.

Misalignment of the crowns and valleys of your teeth create different and excessive wear patterns compared to teeth that are aligned properly. Braces or an invisalign treatment could be recommended, depending on the severity of your bite.

teeth aligning with grinding wear pattern

Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep Apnea (OSA) is a chronic disorder in which sleep is disrupted by shallow breaths or pauses in breathing.

Some of the newest research shows that when you stop breathing at night, the brain stimulates a grinding response to push the jaw forward and allow for regular breathing again.

Recent studies have found that, among sleep disorders, OSA is the highest risk factor for tooth grinding during sleep.

Symptoms that may suggest you’re suffering from sleep apnea-related bruxism include:

  • Loud snoring.
  • Occasionally waking with a choking or gasping sensation.
  • Waking with a very sore or dry throat.
  • Restless sleep or insomnia.
  • Forgetfulness and mood changes.
  • Lack of energy or sleepiness during the day.
  • Morning headaches.

Should you Buy a Dental Night Guard?

Like mouth guards worn during athletics, night mouth guards are oral appliances that cover some or all of your teeth to prevent further tooth damage due to clenching or grinding by covering the teeth.

Also known as occlusal guards, they’re usually made from either vinyl, soft acrylic, resin made from heat-cured plastic, or a light-cured composite. Heat-cured acrylic guards are the most durable, though other materials are less expensive and more comfortable to wear if your grinding is less severe.

Night mouth guards come in two varieties: custom and non-custom over the counter.

clear night guard to protect teeth

Custom Mouth Guards

Custom fitting involved creating a mold of your unique teeth shape and jaw clench to create a guard that fits your mouth exactly.

This perfect fitting allows custom mouth guards to be thinner and more discreet than their non-custom counterparts. This makes them more comfortable and less likely to cause breathing problems than over the counter dental guards which are typically designed for sports activities.

Typically custom occlusal guards are prescribed and created by your dentist and usually take two visits.

During the first visit, your dentist will make a mold of your mouth, either for both the top and bottom rows of teeth or just on or the other. This mold is then sent to a lab that makes your custom fit night guard.

During a second visit, your dentist will check your guard to make sure it fits and explain how to wear and take care of it.

For both visits and the night guard, you can expect to pay your dentist around $300-500, depending on the dental office.

If you happen to live in the Rockville, Maryland area, we offer periodontic treatments including mouth guards for teeth grinding.

Are Night Guards Covered by Insurance?

Many people assume that their dental insurance will cover a dental guard to prevent damage from night time teeth grinding, especially when recommended one is recommended by their dentist.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Often insurance companies argue that by the time you get a dentist’s recommendation for a night guard, the damage has already been done.

However, some insurance plans do provide full or partial coverage for bruxism treatment, so be sure to check with your insurance provider when deciding on whether you’d like to get a custom night guard.

Choosing a Custom Mouth Guard

The severity of how worn your teeth are will be the largest factor in choosing the best thickness and material for your custom guard.

Severe Bruxism

Heavy teeth grinding requires the strongest custom dental night guard. These durable guards are typically 2-3 mm thick, made from rigid acrylic, and last from 2-5 years.

Though they’re typically the most expensive, if you’re suffering from a severe case, these heavier mouth guards are the best way to protect your tooth enamel.

Moderate Bruxism

If you have less intense teeth clenching and grinding, a hybrid guard made from soft acrylic with a hard outer layer provide a bit more comfort at the cost of protection and durability.

They’re also typically 2-3 mm thick but only last 1-3 years because of the different material.

Light Bruxism

Softer night guards made from 2mm thick rubber are also available if your grinding is very light, these typically last 6 months to 2 years.

Over the Counter Mouth Guards

If the few hundred dollars expense is more than you’d like to pay, non-custom guards are also available at most drug stores.

These are typically made from soft rubber and are designed for sports, so they tend to be bulkier and may cause difficulty breathing at night as they aren’t designed to perfectly fit for your specific mouth and teeth.

However, over the counter mouth guards do offer a good amount of protection for light to moderate bruxism and cost as little as $20, with Boil Bite Guards that fit a bit more snuggly available at a slight additional cost.

Other Ways to Stop Grinding Your Teeth

While night guards don’t necessarily treat the causes of teeth grinding, they can be a helpful protective measure to protect against further tooth damage.

If a night guard feels cost prohibitive, or you’re the type of person who prefers to address the root causes, there are a few other options to stop grinding your teeth at night.

If you suspect stress is the cause of your teeth grinding, explore stress reduction options including:

  • Stress counseling
  • Starting an exercise program
  • Avoiding or cuttig back on foods and drinks that contain caffeine, including cola, chocolate, and coffee
  • Avoiding alcohol, which can affect sleep and increase stress hormone levels
  • Drinking more water
  • Getting more sleep
facial massage to relax the face muscles and decrease bruxism

There are also lifestyle changes you can make and treatments you can explore to directly address tight jaw muscles and clenching. These include:

  • Seeing a physical therapist to practice and learn exercises for relaxing your face and jaw when you notice you’re clinching.
  • Avoiding chewing gum and non-food objects.
  • Holding a warm washcloth against your cheek, in front of your earlobe before going to bed at night.
  • Massaging the neck, face, and jaw muscles to relieve tension on common trigger points.
  • Getting a prescription for muscle relaxants to relax the jaw.

Often, certain medications, like SSRI antidepressants, the acid-reflux drug Reglan, and the ADHD drug Ritalin can lead to bruxism as a side effect, so ask your doctor if any medications you’re taking may contribute to your teeth grinding and ask about options for switching.

There are also various medical conditions known to contribute to jaw clenching and bruxism.

Most important among these is Sleep Apnea, as this sleep disorder can lead to serious conditions including high blood pressure, stroke, and heart failure.

If you suspect you may be suffering from sleep apnea, it’s important to ask your dentist or doctor to refer you to a sleep specialist who can conduct a sleep study to determine if you suffer from apnea and prescribe an effective treatment.

Treating Your Bruxism hopes you enjoyed this article and learned about the potential hazards of grinding your teeth and ways to identify the symptoms you may be having.

If you’re concerned you may be grinding your teeth and want to seek treatment for the pain, possible sleep apnea, or prevent further tooth damage, contact a general dentist in Rockville today to book an appointment to help you get the relief from your dental pain.


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