Ask a Dentist: Why Do I Need a Night Guard?

Why might a dentist suggest a night guard for you or a loved one?  Most of us know someone who grinds their teeth at night.  In this month's blog post, I hope to summarize my thoughts to a question I often hear: "Why Do I Need a Night Guard?" 

During a comprehensive exam, I evaluate much more than whether a patient has tooth decay or not.  Among many other things, I also evaluate their Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ), facial muscles, how teeth come together when they bite and amount of tooth wear.  Irregularities in these areas let me know that the patient may either currently be grinding their teeth at night or have ground their teeth in the past.  I then ask the patient whether they experience sore or tired jaw muscles in the morning, headaches above their ears, pain in their TMJ, sore teeth in the morning, recently chipped teeth or a loved one that has heard them grinding at night.  A combination of clinical exam results and active symptoms from grinding leads me to recommend a custom-fabricated, hard night guard. A night guard protects the teeth from further wear in addition to several other health benefits.  

The process that I use to fabricate and deliver night guards has the benefit of placing the TMJ into its proper place on the protective disk inside the joint.  Without a night guard, patients who grind their teeth at night may be doing long-term, irreversible and painful damage to this protective disk.  Additional benefits of a night guard include less compression and strain on the jaw muscles, reduced headaches and protection from chipping and damaging teeth. 

A custom night guard that is properly fabricated and fitted can make a life-changing difference for patients with nightly grinding habits.  After a patient is diagnosed with needing a night guard, our office typically only needs two twenty-minute appointments in order to deliver a custom-fabricated device.  Alternatives to a custom, hard night guard such as soft night guards and store-bought guards can relieve some short-term symptoms, but may actually cause more damage to the TMJ and other critical structures over time.  For patients who are unable to tolerate wearing something in their mouth at night, I prescribe a low-dose muscle relaxer before bed.  If you or someone you know may be dealing with issues from grinding their teeth, please contact our office to schedule a comprehensive evaluation. 

Cheers to dental health, 

Dr. Cliff Moore 

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