Almost everyone grinds their teeth at least a little from time to time. For some, though, the grinding becomes a medical problem. Do you wake up in the morning with a sore jaw or a dull headache? Do you find that you have sore or sensitive teeth from time to time with no apparent cause? Does your partner tell you that you’re keeping him or her up at night gnashing, clicking, or grinding your teeth? You may be one of the roughly 10% of adults who suffer from nighttime teeth grinding, medically referred to as bruxism. This condition is likely caused by missing or improperly aligned teeth, stress, or anxiety, and can lead to headache, TMJ, sore jaws, broken, cracked, or worn teeth, and even losing teeth and needing crowns or partial or complete dentures. That’s right, you can actually grind your own teeth down to nubs such that you need to have them replaced. It’s not pretty, and you should talk to Dr. Woods- your Alpharetta dentist at Smilescapes Dentistry.
The most common treatment for nighttime bruxism is to wear a mouth guard that limits your ability to grind teeth against one another, thus protecting the surface of your teeth and ultimately helping the jaw to relax in the process. If appropriate, Dr. Woods can set you up with the fanciest model, a custom fit mouth guard made just for your teeth. The process to get one of these takes a couple of weeks and can cost several hundred dollars.
The cost may or may not be covered in whole or in part by your dental insurance, but if you have an FSA or other pre-tax healthcare dollars set aside, it is an eligible expense under those programs. Dr. Woods can monitor the condition of the guard and help you keep it in prime working order. He will also let you know when its time to replace it.
If a custom guard is not in the cards for you, there are some over the counter options available at your local drugstore. These guards range from adjustable straight out of the package to “boil and bite” that use hot water to form to the contours of your mouth. While not as durable or as tailored to your particular bite as a custom guard, some protection is still better than no protection, and these models are generally available without a prescription for under $50.
If a guard alone is not enough, or you suffer from daytime grinding as well as nighttime grinding, there are other techniques you can use to lessen your tendency to gnash those chompers. Stress and anxiety management, massage, stretching, and applying warm compresses to the jaw before sleep are all options to help reduce tension in the jaw muscle that leads to grinding. If you catch yourself grinding your teeth in the daytime, put your tongue between your teeth. This forces the jaw muscle to relax. Also, unless you’re really determined to grind, you won’t bite through your tongue to do it!