Night Guards: Minimizing the Damage Done by Tooth Grinding

Dr. Kyle Hornby

Night Guards are an acrylic padding that fit over your teeth while you sleep. These devices help patients protect oral structures during nighttime tooth grinding. Patients who grind their teeth experience deterioration of teeth, gums and jaw over time if they do not wear a night guard. Below is a list of specific symptoms and conditions that develop as a result of tooth grinding.

Tooth Grinding Symptoms & Night Guard Benefits

  • Enamel Wear & Chipping. The heavy friction and force that comes with grinding causes loss of enamel over time. It may cause tooth fractures as well, and these may require repair with Dental Fillings or even Dental Crowns. Patients sometimes split teeth in half and require tooth extraction, although this occurs rarely. Night Guards provide a protective pad between to teeth. This eliminates tooth-tooth contact and resulting damage.
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  • Gum Recession. This surprises most patients. "But, I don't grind anywhere near my gums...". They're right. But, when your tooth cusps are locked into opposing tooth grooves, you can begin to exert heavy side-to-side forces while grinding. This lateral force places lots of pressure on the bone and gum collars around your teeth. The result is progressive gum recession that can become severe. Night guards provide a smooth surface upon which your opposing teeth can glide freely. They eliminate lateral forces that cause gum recession.
  • Abfraction or "Tooth Divots". An abfraction is an area of tooth wear shaped like a sideways "V", near your gumline. Patients with moderate-severe abfractions note that they look like like "undercuts" you'd see while chopping down a tree. These areas can be excruciatingly sensitive to cold. Abfractions result from excessive side-to-side (lateral) forces during tooth grinding. As mentioned above, night guards allow your teeth to slide freely, eliminating dangerous lateral forces.
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  • Jaw Pain & Functional Problems. Tooth grinding can cause jaw pain, and "clicking" or "popping" sounds during chewing. Some patients grind their teeth and notice their jaw sticks in an open position. If teeth could slide perfectly during grinding, there would surely be a lower incidence of jaw problems related to grinding. When you lock your opposing teeth together and then grind them, there is a lot of resistance. This resistance is the basis for dangerous counter-forces on jaw joints. Because night guards eliminate destructive lateral forces, they relieve pressure and, therefore, related jaw symptoms.
  • Acceleration of Gum Disease ("Periodontitis"). Patients who have Gum Disease lose jawbone and gum tissue over time. Tooth grinding rapidly accelerates this process. For these patients, a night guard provides a splinting/reinforcing effect for the teeth. It limits destructive side-to-side forces as well.

How does a night guard work?

A night guard is a horseshoe-shaped acrylic pad that fits on your teeth. It can fit on the top teeth. It can fit on the bottom teeth. Both types work equally well. Lower night guards are smaller and they don't encroach on the roof of mouth like the upper ones do. People also find it easier to speak with a lower night guard in place. Because of this, most patients find it easier to acclimate to a lower night guard.

Your night guard does 2 main things:

  1. It pads and protects your teeth. When you wear a night guard, you can't wear down or chip your tooth enamel.
  2. It enables free motion of teeth during grinding. As a result, it eliminates harmful lateral forces.

How much does a Night Guard cost?

Your Dentist in Kitchener can make a custom-fit night guard for you for $300 - $400. They will take dental impressions of your teeth and then work with a dental laboratory to design and make the appliance that will work best for you.

Night Guards usually take 10 - 14 days to make after your Family Dentist takes impressions.

These appliances may be covered by your dental insurance. Ask your Kitchener Dentist to send a pre-determination for costs to your insurance provider so you'll know in advance what amount, if any, you'll need to pay for your new Night Guard.

Other Night Guard FAQs:

night guard kitchener

Are all Night Guards the same?

No, they're not. Generally, a Night Guard for your teeth is made of a flexible acrylic. However, you can make a night guard harder or softer by varying the type of acrylic from which it's made. Over time, people may develop preferences for softer or harder guards and your Kitchener-Waterloo Dentist can cater to your preference with their night guard design.

Do Night Guards prevent teeth from moving (shifting)?

A night guard will fit over either your upper or lower arch of teeth. The appliance can limit tooth movement or shifting, meaning that it can act like a retainer. However, it will not be able to prevent shifting of opposing teeth in any way. For example, an upper arch night guard can limit or minimize shifting of upper teeth but will not prevent or limit shifting of the opposing lower teeth.

Some people wear a removable retainer after straightening their teeth with Dental Braces or Invisalign. If they eventually need a night guard, they discontinue wearing the removable retainer as it will not fit under the night guard.

Can Night Guards cause your teeth to shift?

There is no evidence of this. Theoretically, if the night guard is not a proper fit for your arch of teeth and you force it into place, it can cause active movement the way an Invisalign aligner would. My best recommendation would be to seek the advice of your Kitchener Dentist if your new Night Guard seems to be changing the feel of your bite. That could be an indication that the appliance does not fit correctly and requires and adjustment.

You can help to minimize forces when putting your Night Guard in place by first warming it with water for 30 seconds. You definitely want to avoid hot or boiling water as it will denature the acrylic and your night guard will lose its form.

Night Guard Benefits

By protecting your tooth enamel, your night guard minimizes tooth wear and chipping over time. By eliminating damaging lateral forces, your night guard relieves jaw pain while minimizing destruction of jaw bone and gum tissue.

By Dr. Kyle Hornby, Kitchener Dentist

If you have any questions about tooth grinding or having a night guard made for you, call us at (519) 576-8160 or request a consult with Dr. Kyle Hornby here.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your Kitchener Dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a dental condition or treatment.

Enjoy a fresh start.
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