The short answer is individuals who clench or grind their teeth in their sleep. In fact, around 10% of the population grinds their teeth while sleeping, resulting in temporomandibular pain, facial muscle discomfort, and headaches. For many people, night guard devices provide integral protection by preventing the painful symptoms that often accompany teeth clenching, grinding, or bruxism. Moreover, night guards lessen the wearing down of the teeth by inhibiting such grinding.
Furthermore, post-orthodontic patients or even individuals in general find night guards useful in preventing teeth from shifting over time as well as inhibiting the ability to clench and grind the teeth while sleeping. By keeping the teeth in place and alleviating facial muscular and joint pain, night guards force users to bite evenly. Facilitating an aligned bite helps to evenly distribute concentrated muscle stress and tension that people often endure. In addition, keeping the teeth in place disperses the pressure from chewing and biting instead of allowing a few teeth to absorb the impact. In inflamed gum tissue, individual tooth or teeth taking more pressure than normal (trauma from occlusion) can accelerate bone loss. Night guards help prevent such bone loss by lessening trauma from occlusion.
Once an individual has determined they need a night guard, they must choose between a pre-fabricated and a custom-made device. Pre-fabricated appliances are soft, rubbery and usually generic to fit all mouths. Because they are “one size fits all,” they are usually quite bulky. Users can also purchase pre-made guards that can be heated up and fitted to one’s mouth, but these guards also tend to be bulky and soft. Because pre-fabricated guards are malleable, such occlusal guards actually trigger and perpetuate grinding and clenching habits more than ever because people tend to chew on them.
On the other hand, custom-made occlusal splints are more comfortable because they are particularly fitted to each individual. The periodontist will take an impression of the maxillary and mandibular teeth as well as perform a wax bite registration of the mouth. By constructing the guard to fit not only one’s teeth but also one’s unique bite, the guard fits each individual’s natural occlusion and mouth anatomy, making the custom device much more comfortable than a store bought, pre-made type.
The periodontist should also use processed acrylic for night guard material as opposed to the soft plastic with which pre-made guards are made. This acrylic is rigid so that it protects the integrity of the bite. The smooth bite plane allows users’ teeth surfaces to slide against one another as opposed to roughly grinding against each other. The custom guard may even provide useful feedback to the central nervous system, re-training users to clench and grind less in their sleep. Finally, many dental insurances will help cover the cost of a custom night guard, as opposed to a store bought device.
Individuals who awaken with jaw pain and facial muscle discomfort or whose jaw muscles are achy, stiff, or sore throughout the day likely grind their teeth in their sleep. And as mentioned previously, such people are not alone. The good news is that the symptoms can be relieved through the use of a night guard. However, a pre-made or store bought splint, which is typically chewable and bulky, may actually cause more harm than good by propagating existent bruxing habits. By contrast, we at North Raleigh Periodontics can construct a hard, custom-made guard fitted specifically for your teeth and bite. Such devices are more comfortable, last longer, successfully protect the teeth and jaw from the painful effects of clenching and grinding, and keep the teeth from shifting over time.