According to the American Dental Association, between ten to fifteen percent of adults across the country suffer from some degree of bruxism, or tooth clenching and grinding. This can occur during the day but it occurs most frequently while the individual is asleep. While this may seem to be the sort of situation that is only mildly annoying if the individual is actually aware of it, it can actually cause extensive problems for the individual. Someone who suffers from bruxism can wake up with a stiff or sore jaw, a dull headache, neck pain or even tooth pain and damage. They may also have difficulty opening their mouth wide, have an uncomfortable sensitivity to cold drinks and foods and experience jaw joint clicking or popping as a result of this condition. Obviously a conscious awareness that it occurs is not helpful in preventing it from occurring, as it most frequently occurs when the individual is unconscious. This is where night guards come in handy.
The Protection Offered by Night Guards
Bruxism can be caused by anything from stress, anxiety or tension to misaligned teeth, poor posture, incorrect diet or even one’s sleeping habits. It is most common among individuals who have difficulty coping with anger, pain, frustration, aggression or other such things, and who may resort to biting fingernails, pencils, lips or the insides of their teeth in an effort to deal with these difficult emotions. While the individual can work on preventing tooth damage from occurring while they are awake by focusing on stress and anger-reducing techniques, a night guard can work on preventing tooth damage from occurring while they are asleep.
Night guards are one of the easiest and most common ways to prevent against the damaging effects caused by bruxism. The main function of a night guard is to prevent the jaw muscle strain and tooth damage that can occur when teeth are being ground together. This is incredibly important because especially where bruxism is extensive, teeth can be chipped or cracked and can require restorative dental care which is both painful and costly.
There are two main types of night guards: boil and bite night guards and custom night guards. A boil and bite night guard can be purchased without a prescription at most pharmacies, and is prepared by boiling it to make it soft, letting it cool just enough to not burn the mouth, and then biting into it in order to shape it around your teeth. These can be inexpensive and easy to obtain, but they may not be very comfortable to wear. A custom night guard is tailor-made to fit your mouth. A dentist will take an impression of your mouth and send this to a special laboratory that can custom-make your night guard. Once it has been made, your dentist can ensure that it fits properly and may even be able to make some minor adjustments where needed. Obviously, a custom night guard is more expensive and takes longer to obtain, but they are often more comfortable to wear and may work more efficiently than boil and bite night guards.
Other Possible Solutions
In some cases, individuals are simply not comfortable wearing a night guard and look for alternative solutions in order to prevent the effects caused by bruxism. It may be that they need a different type of night guard, made with a different type of material, in order to have a more comfortable experience. However, if a night guard is simply not a workable option for them, some other possible solutions include:
- Teeth straightening. It is possible that malocclusion–or misaligned teeth–can be partially or wholly responsible for bruxism. In this case, teeth straightening may be able to help.
- Stress prevention measures. Anxiety and stress can lead to bruxism, so dentists often recommend that patients suffering from this condition perform relaxation techniques in order to stop clenching their jaw.
- Changing your diet. Stimulant food substances, like caffeine, can sometimes contribute to bruxism, so many dentists recommend that patients who are seeking to resolve this condition eat lots of nutritious foods and avoid caffeine and other stimulants as much as possible.
Bruxism can be an irritating, painful and costly condition to deal with, especially since it can sometimes contribute to insomnia problems. Fortunately, there are ways that one can successfully deal with it, and prevent it from being a major problem.
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