Night Teeth Grinding 101
“I grind my teeth at night. Do I really have to wear a night guard?”
Picture it: You and your new beau are getting ready to go to sleep. You lean in to give each other a kiss goodnight and his lips graze the plastic night guard appliance that you have grown so accustomed to wearing. He looks at you perplexed and you explain that you “grind your teeth during the night..la deedadeeda..big deal…etc etc”. Less than sexy scenario right? Yes. Yes it is. But like most things in life: You do have options and knowledge is power.
First learn the facts!
It is a well known fact that the only effective treatment provided to combat against teeth grinding is the consistent use of a night mouth guard. There it is people! The cold, hard truth!
But wait! There has to be a night guard out there that is tolerable and maybe even..dare I say it?? Thin and unobtrusive, doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars and most importantly, something you can actually sleep in comfortably.
In this article you will learn two very important things:
- Which night guard type to choose for optimum comfort and protection
- What will happen if you grind/clench your teeth and don’t wear one at all
The Boil & Bite Athletic Mouth Guard
First, there is no need to look like this (above) at night
This is a boil & bite athletic mouth guard that has been designed to be worn during participation in contact sports for short periods of time. It is not only bulky and uncomfortable but dangerous! The thickness of the plastic can actually encourage grinding and throw off your alignment. Some people that have worn this type of mouth guard for prolonged periods of time have lost the ability to bite completely down and have reported increased jaw pain and even difficulty talking/chewing.
Over the counter stock night guards like Dentek and Doctor’s Night Guard
You can get an over the counter stock night guard. It’s a cheap option and hey- if it works it works, right? For some people, they work out just fine but many customers find them uncomfortable and difficult to sleep in. The cost ranges from about $15-$30. Here the term “you get what you pay for” applies. These stock types do not typically last nearly as long as the true custom fit night guards and the fit will be subpar to one that is made from a dental impression of your teeth.
P.S. Don’t be fooled by the “custom fit” description on the box. These guards are about as custom fit as a one size fits all hat without even the courtesy of an adjustable strap.
Store bought boil & bite night guards
These are different than the boil & bite athletic daytime sports guards that were mentioned in the second paragraph of this article. These guards are a step up from the “one size fits all” non-conforming stock types. You can boil these in water or in some cases heat them in the microwave and bite. They have been proven to work well for some but they have a few downsides worth mentioning. One is excess plastic. This type is still mass produced and the sizing of the guard is going to be standard. So what if you have a petite mouth? Chances are that the guard will extend too far back and come up too high over the gum line. The biting process is not going to help with this issue. Again, it’s a middle tier option for you.
So! What is a “true custom fit night guard?”
A true custom fit night guard is made from a dental impression of your unique dental anatomy. You can only get these types from a dental office or an online dental lab. The reason why these night mouth guards cost a bit more than the others is because you are paying for the custom professional fabrication of a top grade plastic appliance to be able to fit perfectly over your dental anatomy. History and experience has told us that most often you cannot take an item and try to mass produce it without sacrificing what made it so great in the first place. A night guard is no exception. Your dental anatomy is not the same as anyone else’s. Your natural arch is smaller or bigger than others. Your teeth point out or go in, or they’re straight, short, long, missing etc. You can’t approach Bruxism with a one size fits all solution. It just doesn’t work.
A custom fit night guard does not need to cover all of your teeth
To take it one step further, by not covering all of your teeth, you’re allowing for a more comfortable, seamless fit. Because the guard is carefully crafted from your exact dental anatomy, you should be able to “snap” it in and have the guard stay in place by hugging your natural grooves comfortably. The plastic only needs to protect those areas that are prone to the grinding action but it still needs to come up on the sides a little bit so that it stays put.
What happens if I grind my teeth at night and don’t wear a night guard? What’s the worst that can happen?
The worse that can happen is that eventually you will need major restorative work to repair the damage caused by grinding or clenching your teeth. This “work” can be anything from crowns to bridges, veneers, implants, extractions, & root canals. Basically, you are opening yourself up to extremely expensive dental procedures because teeth grinding can make you vulnerable to an array of dental health problems. For one, if you start grinding through your enamel it can speed up tooth decay. If the decay gets too far inside your tooth you will need a root canal and since you’re not grinding on just one tooth you may need several root canals. See where I’m going? One root canal per tooth costs on average $1200. $1200! That’s one tooth! But that’s what dental insurance is for right? Okay. FYI. Anyone who has any experience with dental insurance can probably vouch that it is most often (for lack of a better term) whack! You never seem to get enough. Use the preventative night guard. You can thank me later.
Types of custom fit night guards for light, medium and heavy grinders
If you start shopping for a custom fit night guard (whether online or through your dentist) you may see that several companies offer different types of custom fit sleep guards. Typically, there are three styles to choose from.
There is a hard acrylic type, a soft one, and a (relatively new on the scene) dual laminated night guard.
The hard acrylic night guard is going to be thin in design. It protects your teeth against tough grinding habits and keeps them in place so if your teeth are prone to movability you may want to consider this one. Again, this guard is made to withstand heavy grinding or clenching activity. Can last up to 5+ years of cleaned and stored properly
The soft type is the most common. Now, just because it is the most common does not mean it is the best. Online, you will find these soft custom fit guards priced about 50% less than the other guard types.This is a good custom fit night guard that is comfortable and reliable but it does not have the long lasting durability of the other two types (life expectancy is anywhere from 6 months to 2 years). Mainly because this guard can be made from a standard vacuum forming machine that is available in most dental offices & labs. It is an inexpensive, relatively simple machine that heats up the plastic material and sucks down over the stone mold (The other two types mentioned above & below –if made from a reputable business– will be constructed using a special machine that combines high heat/ pressure & computerized technology to fuse together thin layers and provide maximum quality). The guard is then trimmed, polished and delivered to the customer.
The dual laminated night guard is made using two special layers of material (soft on the inside/hard on the outside) to create a style that is a little thicker than both the soft & hard types. It is durable yet comfortable because of the soft lining on the inside. It can last anywhere from 2-5 years if it is cleaned and stored properly. This type is recommended for moderate to heavy grinding/clenching activity
Ask your dentist or your online dental lab store if they are constructing your night guard with a vacuum forming machine or a machine that works in conjunction with an air compressor. The quality and longevity of your guard is directly correlated to what type of machine being used.
Night Guard Cost
Custom fit in general dental office
$300-$800 or higher
Precise dental impression, will receive your guard within 2-7 days, insurance may cover some or all
High Cost, no warranty or money back guarantee
Custom fit from online dental lab
Low cost, same exact night guard as dental office, several online companies offer 100% satisfaction guarantee or money back
Must be comfortable taking your own dental impression, two weeks or more turn around time, insurance will not cover
Boil & Bite Mouth Guard
not recommended for the use of sleeping
bulky, encourages grinding, uncomfortable, increases likelihood of improper alignment/bite
Over the counter stock night guards
extremely low cost, some success rate
no custom fit, inability to stay in place, uncomfortable
Using a night guard to combat against an aging face
A popular incentive for wearing a night guard is the anti aging effect it has on bruxers. A person that consistently grinds or clenches their teeth overtime can have some noticeable physical features develop which include a strong (sometimes masculine looking) jaw, jaw protrusion, lines around the mouth, teeth shortening which causes the face to have a sagging appearance.
If you notice that you tighten your jaw day or night, or you wake up in the morning with headaches, facial tension, you should check with your dentist to see if a night guard may benefit you in regard to slowing down the appearance of an aging face.