Do you wake up in the morning with sore teeth and an aching jaw? If so, you may be unconsciously clenching or grinding your teeth while you sleep. Clenching and grinding can lead to sharp pain or a dull ache in your jaw, as well as excessive tooth wear and problems with the jaw joint. Fortunately, we have a solution.

At Virginia H. Ellis, DDS Dental Corp. in Orinda, California, Dr. Ellis and her staff treat teeth clenching with a night guard, a custom-made dental appliance that fits over your teeth and prevents clenching and grinding. Here’s what a night guard can do for you.

What does a night guard treat?

We use a night guard to treat two major conditions:

1. Bruxism

Bruxism is the medical term for clenching or grinding your teeth. You may clench or grind unconsciously while you’re awake (awake bruxism) or while you sleep (sleep bruxism). And you may do this because of stress, habit, or other reasons.

Bruxism as a whole is classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. That’s because people who brux are more likely to have other sleep-related disorders, such as sleep apnea.

If your bruxism is mild, you might not need any treatment. If it’s frequent and severe, however, it can lead to:

  • Jaw disorders
  • Headaches
  • Excessive tooth wear
  • Damaged teeth

Signs of bruxism include:

  • Fractured, chipped, or loose teeth
  • Worn tooth enamel, possibly exposing the inner pulp
  • Increased tooth pain or sensitivity
  • Tired or tight jaw muscles
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction
  • A locked jaw, either open or closed
  • Jaw, neck, and/or face pain or tenderness
  • Headaches or dull aching in the temples
  • Pain that feels like an earache but isn’t coming from the ear
  • Cheek damage from chewing against the lining

Dr. Ellis will be able to determine from a visual inspection of your mouth and X-rays if you’re dealing with bruxism.

2. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ dysfunction)

The TMJ is a hinge joint in front of your ear that connects your jaw to your skull. It’s what lets you yawn, chew, and speak. Dysfunction of this joint, along with problems in your jaw and the facial muscles that control its movement, are collectively called temporomandibular disorders (TMDs)

Temporomandibular disorders can be caused by a wide range of issues, from an injury to arthritis, but the biggest contributor is bruxism. A night guard can therefore treat both problems.

How does a night guard work?

If Dr. Ellis prescribes a night guard for you, she takes an impression of your entire mouth. This mold is then used to create a high-quality night guard that’s specific to your mouth. The night guard may be created from a hard acrylic or a soft, flexible plastic, and it fits over your upper or lower arch of teeth. If you wear it during the day, it’s called a splint.

A night guard works by slipping over your teeth and preventing them from touching one another. By relieving that pressure, you’re unable to clench and grind, which means your muscles can relax, and you won’t damage your teeth and jaw.

People with TMDs, as well as those with bruxism, usually benefit from wearing some form of night guard, but the reasons why aren’t well understood. It may be that the appliance works by preventing the jaw’s constant motion, thereby preventing the joint bone from popping out of its socket and decreasing the chances that the jaw will lock into place.

In some cases, a night guard isn’t enough to help. If you have tooth wear so severe it’s created sensitivity, a misaligned bite, or the inability to chew properly, Dr. Ellis may need to employ other techniques, such as reshaping the teeth’s chewing surfaces or using crowns to cover and protect the damaged areas.

If you clench, grind, or have perpetual soreness in your jaw, a night guard may be just the thing to bring you relief and restore your oral health. To learn more, call (925) 272-2698, or book an appointment online with Virginia H. Ellis, DDS Dental Corp. today.