Kyle Taylor, DDS

Tranquil Bay Dental

2415 Penny Road Suite 203

High Point, NC 27265

336-884-8989

At Deep River Pointe

Bite / Night / Occlusal Guards

photo of jaw pain due to bruxism or teeth grinding at night

Are you frequently waking up with clenched jaws, jaw muscle soreness, or possibly even headaches?

These could be signs and symptoms night teeth grinding. It is much more common than the average person would imagine. Suspicion is the first step toward diagnosis. If you suspect you may be grinding your teeth at night, try to become aware of the position of your jaws when you wake up at night, and determine whether your jaws feel tense during those times or in the morning.

Also called “bruxism,” grinding can negatively affect the integrity of the teeth and jaw joints over time if it remains undiagnosed or treatment is ignored following high suspicion or diagnosis by your dentist. Teeth can even fracture as the result of grinding, which results in the need for crowns or even extraction.

Wear on the biting surface is a sure sign of current or past grinding, but only in patients who have a lot of side-to-side movement of their lower jaw during the episodes. (These patients also need to be evaluated for sleep apnea since there may be a direct relationship.)

But did you know there is also a type of grinding that produces little to no wear?  Those who “clench grind” their teeth exert tremendous vertical pressure on their teeth and jaw joints while they are sleeping, but the side-to-side movements are minimal compared to the grinder who wears down their teeth.  The clench grinder is often more difficult to diagnose, and in the face of much evidence to the contrary, oftentimes they will deny that they grind their teeth at night.  In reality they are just not aware that they grind at night.  I have heard patients state, “I know I don’t grind because I snore and my mouth is open,” or, “My spouse says she never hears me grinding my teeth.”

My answer to the first patient is that during the average night’s sleep there are different things going on at different times. Even only five minutes a night of teeth grinding puts far too much stress on the teeth and jaw joints and muscles to endure for long without suffering some effect.

To the second patient, I ask them to please clench down fairly hard and “grit” their teeth while keeping them together. Does it make any noise?  It does not.  Most think that all grinding sounds like what comes from an eight-year-old who grinds with both permanent and “baby” teeth in place – that horrible sound – when it is far from the case.

Here’s another telltale sign of either current or past grinding – the presence of those “V” notches at the neck or gum line of several or many teeth.  Called “abfractions” or “cervical erosion,” these notches can become quite deep over time and affect the integrity of the tooth.

Do you have many teeth that are sensitive to cold liquids?  Sensitivity to cold does not occur with every patient who grinds, but many patients who do also have this issue.  The only way the teeth know to alert you that something is wrong (but fixable) is by becoming sensitive.

One more self-test:  Place your forefinger against your top teeth on one side and clench, then grind or “grit” your teeth. Do you feel movement of any teeth?  This means that grinding is current and is loosening teeth in their sockets.   But don’t worry.  Unless you have severe bone loss from gum disease, this can be reversed.

Let the acrylic take the forces, not your teeth!

A custom dentist-made bite guard (also called night guard or occlusal guard) may be the answer to teeth grinding.  They are very streamlined in fit, and greatly differ in comfort and durability from what is referred to as a bite guard in retail stores.  I only advocate these store-bought guards for patients who are in extreme pain and need something to relieve it until the lab can make the custom guard from the dentist’s impressions.  The difference between the two is night and day.  I like to say that with a store-bought bite guard, “It fits everyone, but fits no one well.”   With a custom-fitted guard, you will have a comfortable and protective barrier between your teeth every night to prevent friction from causing damage.