When Your Dentist Recommends a Night Guard

First, know the cause of your clenching or grinding. You may be able to prevent your grinding by these simple techniques.

One thing that really bothers me is when a dentist recommends a night guard very quickly. It’s crucial to discuss the cause of your clenching, grinding, or tapping (bruxism). Considering the chance of something as serious as sleep apnea being overlooked, I believe not exploring the cause of bruxism is negligence. Please read my blog, Sleep Issues Can Mean TMJ Issues.

DDS’s are great at treatment planning a custom night guard, all the while knowing it doesn’t always treat the problem or stop the behavior. On top of which, your dental insurance doesn’t cover the cost of a night guard, and depending on the kind, they can be very expensive. You would be extremely lucky if your dentist suggested trying an over the counter night guard, which is under $30!

Deal with Stress to Avoid a Night Guard

I always take the time with patients to discuss what could be causing their bruxism, and hence, any related TMJ issues. Sometimes awareness of the behavior combined with removing the source of it, i.e, stress, can be the only things needed to stop the bruxism. Unfortunately, a night guard is not a magic bullet; some people never get used to them, merely finding them on their pillow every morning. Ideally, like me, you want to be aware of your bruxism so you can prevent it.

Prevent Wearing a Night Guard with Behavior Modification

Many people can manage their bruxism with behavior modification, which I believe, is a crucial first step before jumping into a night guard.

Behavior modification for the prevention of bruxism is simply to allow your thoughts to imagine a relaxed jaw. You can use this technique anytime, before bed and during a stressful day. Your TMJ is in neutral position when your mandible is dropped to create a space between your teeth; if your teeth are touching the slightest your muscles tense up ready for action. Imagine the state of a peaceful meditation and repeat this mantra, “I am relaxed with my lips together and teeth apart.”

With behavior modification, you always want to think of the positive outcome; never state what you want in the negative, for example, don’t say, “Tonight I will not clench or grind.” Feel yourself completely relaxed with your jaw floating, and voila, if you state your intention, you’ll prevent bruxism, and if you do touch your teeth together you’ll catch yourself in the act, in which, all you need to do is repeat “Lips together, teeth apart.”

Over the Counter Night Guard

If relaxation and behavior modification techniques don’t work, you may want to try an over the counter night guard. Occasionally, rarely though, when I’m really stressed, I will put my night guard in while I’m reading in bed to force my TMJ into neutral position to relax it with a head start before my mantra. However, I take it out before I turn out the light, because I’m one of those who can never keep it in all night, and fortunately, the mantra works for me. Some of you may be comforted by a night guard guiding your TMJ into a neutral position. I recommend trying a SleepRight Dental Guard because you don’t have to shape it yourself (do not get the custom one), it’s comfortable, and you can save lots of money.

Click image to order dental guard

Many patients end up loving their over the counter night guard and never need the dentist to customize one for them. Although, when your dentist recommends a night guard, try asking what might be the cause of your bruxism. If you aleviate the cause, you will have a relaxed jaw.

*This blog contains affiliate links for products Ask My Hygienist carefully recommends based on professional experience or personal use. These suggestions are to assist you in your quest for better oral health, and in turn, you're assisting our blog with the small commission we receive from your purchase.

Sleep Issues Can Mean TMJ Issues

If you’re clenching or grinding your teeth at night, it’s crucial to know why, especially to find out if you have sleep apnea, a symptom of teeth grinding. There are many techniques to prevent TMJ issues.

Let me start out by sharing my own incident with stress, sleep, and TMJ symptoms. When I was in my twenties, I was working as a hygienist and juggling classes to achieve my bachelors degree. One day, after a morning shift at work, and before classes, I went home to crash for a nap. I was exhausted and completely overwhelmed with paying the bills while trying to keep up with straight A’s at school.

Suddenly, startled from a deep sleep, I heard what I thought was house painters scraping paint off the side of my rental. When I became more alert, I realized it was me grinding my two eye teeth together, the loud outrageous sound which woke me up, was me. Yikes! No wonder why my jaw was sore.

Clenching or Grinding (Bruxism)

Needless to say, if you are not relaxed when you sleep, you could be prone to clenching or grinding your teeth (bruxism). Falling asleep relaxed will help you sleep through the night, without being woken up with anxious thoughts, or in my case, grinding your teeth away. When you clench or grind your teeth at night, your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) becomes strained.

In order for your TMJ to be in a neutral and relaxed position, your teeth must be apart and your mandible slightly dropped. A mantra I repeat if I feel myself tensing up day or night is, “Lips together, teeth apart.” If a dental professional has told you you’re bruxing but you’re unaware of it, try taking some deep breaths and repeat the above mantra as you’re falling asleep and you’ll catch yourself during the night if your teeth touch together. See my blog, When Your Dentist Recomends a Night Guard. Use relaxation techniques before bed, such as writing notes, drinking herbal tea, meditation, or peaceful music, and not only will your TMJ relax but your whole body.

Proper Sleep Position to Prevent TMJ Issues

Your sleep position is crucial to a relaxing sleep and to releasing tension from your TMJ. It is extremely important your TMJ has no pressure on it while sleeping, therefore, stomach sleeping is not recommended. Realize, your TMJ is the only double hinged joint in the body, and if you put force on one side, it will torque it.

If you sleep on your side, you do not ever want to put your hands or fist under your TMJ or jam them into your mandible. The way to keep your hands from your face is to first make sure your head is on the pillow and your chin is floating off the edge of it. Your shoulder position is very important because if your shoulders are twisted too far back it will force your arms closer to you which forces your hands into your face. So, play with your shoulder position forward to the point where your arms are jetted out away from you. I always sleep with a pillow between my legs, which encourages side-sleeping alignment. Before you plop in bed at night, get comfortable into proper body alignment and take the pressure of your TMJ.

Proper sleep position for side sleeper

I couldn’t sleep without my knee pillow. Besides relieving my TMJ, I wake with a happy back. You can try Cushy Form knee pillow.

Click on image to purchase pillow

Sleep Apnea can Cause Bruxism

Lastly, but most important, as this could be life saving, is the possibility of sleep apnea causing your bruxism. It is classic for a dentist to quickly diagnose you’re bruxing and immediately tell you the treatment is a nightguard. Whoa, slow down, where is the discussion to what is causing your clenching or grinding? Is it stress, sleep position, or worse, sleep apnea, and perhaps a combination of all three?

One way to suspect sleep apnea is if you snore. At first, this threw me as a hygienist because I assumed if you snored your mouth hung open all night. Now, I’m aware, when you snore, you can stop breathing, and the body’s natural response is to force your teeth together to open your airway. Hence, with sleep apnea, you alternate between snoring with an open mouth to clenching or grinding in order to breath. It is crucial to know the cause of your TMJ issue before treating it!

*This blog contains affiliate links for products Ask My Hygienist carefully recommends based on professional experience or personal use. These suggestions are to assist you in your quest for better oral health, and in turn, you're assisting our blog with the small commission we receive from your purchase.