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. 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- It pads and protects your teeth. When you wear a night guard, you can’t wear down or chip your tooth enamel.
- It enables free motion of teeth during grinding. As a result, it eliminates harmful lateral forces.
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
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 dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a dental condition or treatment.