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Night Guards for Grinding, Clenching, and TMJ Pain

March 22, 2021
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Posted By: Bryant Anderson, DMD
Patients using night guards for sleeping to avoid grinding, clenching, and TMJ pain

Night Guards for Grinding, Clenching, and TMJ Pain

If you saw our previous post on TMJ disorder, then you know how much damage grinding and clenching can cause. From jaw pain and tenderness to fractured and worn teeth, abnormal flexing of the jaws (called parafunctional habits) should ideally be treated. Night guards are a cornerstone in the treatment of grinding, clenching, and TMJ pain.

What a Night Guard Is

A night guard is very similar to an orthodontic retainer in that it is an appliance that covers the teeth. However, retainers are usually very thin acrylic material. They do offer some minimal protection for the enamel by keeping the teeth from rubbing, but they do not help to prevent or relieve TMJ pain. 

A night guard should always be made of hard acrylic. While there are some over-the-counter soft rubber type guards out there, we almost never recommend those for grinding or clenching issues. That squishy, bouncy rubber material might keep your teeth from wearing or cracking, but it is very likely to make parafunctional habits worse! By giving your muscles something to work on, these store-bought guards can aggravate the TMJ muscles further and injure the joint capsule. Skip ‘em!

What Night Guards Do

Seems obvious, right? Night guards keep the bottom teeth from touching the top, thereby eliminating grinding and clenching and helping to relieve TMJ pain. There’s actually a little more to it than that.

There are several different styles of night guard, each of which serve a different purpose or approach the problem in a different way. There are guards called deprogrammers, which aim to break the cycle of muscle spasms that cause grinding. There are flat plane splints which cover all the teeth and are appropriate for long-term use and for certain problems with the joint capsule itself. There are full coverage splints with anterior guidance, which means a full tray for the top teeth that helps guide the jaw into a healthier position. Spear style, Dawson style, Wilkerson style… Point is, whatever your TMJ issue is, there is probably a guard to address it!

As a byproduct of disrupting your grinding, many patients also find that a night guard reduces cold sensitivity, headaches, and stiff neck. Talk about a multitasker!

In general, the main goals of a night guard are: 1) to protect the teeth from wear and damage; 2) to prevent wear on the ball joint of the jaw; and 3) to relieve muscle tension and pain. There are other specialized types of guards for specific problems. Snore guards, for example, eliminate snoring by pulling the jaw forward and helping to open the airway. However, for patients with TMJ pain, these guards can do more harm than good, so they’re not appropriate in all cases.

How Guards Are Made

If Dr. Anderson determines that a night guard is an appropriate treatment for your parafunctional habit, the fabrication process is a breeze… Well, for the patient, anyway. It just takes a quick appointment to create models of your teeth and take a few measurements. Then, Dr. Anderson whisks your models away, does some amazing magic, and presto. After a short interim, you pop back in so we can make sure everything fits perfectly, and that’s it! (Okay, credit to Dr. Anderson, it’s a little more complicated than that. But he makes it look so easy!)

Don’t let TMJ pain wear on you, or your teeth! If you believe you may be grinding or clenching, let us know at your next visit. A guard may be an easy way to protect your teeth and relieve your discomfort. And believe it or not, we have even more ways to find relief from TMJ pain, so keep an eye out for future posts!

 
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