DEAR DR. BOLES: My wife says I drive her crazy at night grinding my teeth. Should I buy one of those mouth guards at the pharmacy? - David, Meredith, NH
DEAR DAVID: Most people grind their teeth at some point or another, often while asleep. Chronic clenching and grinding—called bruxism—can lead to sleepless nights and daytime pain. You might wake up with a headache, a sore or tight jaw, or a complaining spouse. Eventually, grinding can cause teeth to wear down, loosen, or even break.
Chronic teeth grinding can be caused by stress, anxiety, a sleep disorder, or even missing or crooked teeth. Decreasing stress during the day might help alleviate grinding at night. If you suspect a sleep disorder is to blame, you should consult with your physician. If your bite is misaligned, or stress reduction techniques aren’t working, an oral appliance or mouth guard might be the answer.
Over-the-counter mouth guards are not the best choice. They can be bulky and uncomfortable, and they rarely fit well enough to prevent the effects of grinding and clenching. In fact, the poor fit can actually increase clenching and grinding. Your best bet is a custom fit oral appliance from your dental provider.
At my office, patients have found relief with the NTI-tss® Plus bite guard. This guard is smaller than conventional full-coverage appliances and made from an impression of your teeth, so fits well and is comfortable. At the same time, the NTI-tss Plus protects teeth, jaw muscles, and joints from long-term damage.
Your dental provider can help you choose the best oral appliance. A custom fit guard will be more expensive than a store-bought one, but it will provide you with something priceless: pain relief, a good night’s sleep, and a happy spouse.