Night guards, or occlusal splints, are a very useful treatment for many patients. Generally, we prescribe them in an effort to avoid more expensive or painful treatments in the future. Good candidates for a night guard can be divided into three groups:
First, true bruxers. Bruxism, or teeth grinding, is most commonly done at night. Often patients are unaware of the behavior, but there are some telltale signs. Wear facets, which are highly polished notches or depressions in otherwise normal teeth, are one classic sign. Often, they will look like dimples in the surface of the back teeth where there should be peaks. Also, many of these patients will say they wake up with their teeth feeling sore or tight. For these patients, a night guard provides direct protection of the teeth from one another and significantly reduces the progression of tooth wear.
The second group, often related to the first, is patients with jaw pain. When you grind your teeth, the muscles that normally close your mouth are working very hard. In fact, they can produce far more force in your sleep than while you are awake. This also puts a lot of strain on the temperomandibular joint (TMJ). Many of these patients will complain of waking up with their jaw feeling tight or tired and having headaches on the sides of their head. For these patients, a night guard allows the upper and lower teeth to pass each other without engaging. When the muscles aren't fighting the teeth, they calm down.
The third group are people who have had a lot of expensive cosmetic work done. Nighttime grinding and clenching, even if only occasional, can destroy crowns, veneers, and bondings. For patients who
have invested significant time and money in their teeth, please consider a night guard as an insurance policy.
As always, if you have any questions about this or other treatment the best plan is to set a time to come in and talk to us about it. We are always happy to take the time to make sure you have what you need to make good choices about your own dental health.