"Do I really need a night guard?"
Some of our patients report waking up clenching their jaw while others don't feel or notice a thing - not until their spouse tells on them and says, "No, I can hear you grinding your teeth in your sleep".
Well as dentists, we can see when someone's been grinding or clenching their jaw when we meet them for a dental examination. But, because takes a while to get to this state - maybe a few months to a year or even more - many of us as patients aren't aware of it until it's already happened. So what are the instances where we might recommend a night guard?
One of the earlier signs we point out for patients is when we start to see wear facets - hopefully getting to them before the teeth wear away significantly. This can be seen on the biting surfaces of the teeth.
If you experience a lot of broken, chipped or cracked teeth, it might also be because you grind or clench at night - which can weaken your teeth over time. It might sound a bit obvious, but some people attribute these conditions to inheriting poor genetics - so we thought we'd mention it. Whether it's poor genetics or grinding - or a combination of both - it might be wise to wear a night guard anyhow to protect your remaining teeth.
Another clue we look for is when there is gum recession. When people grind their teeth, it can put a lot of pressure and force on their teeth (as we have mentioned), and this can have a ripple effect towards the gum. And if teeth are loosened by the clenching or grinding, this can enlarge gingival pockets and lead to greater recession of the gums - because bacteria gets trapped in these areas.
If you have had a lot of dental work done (e.g. implants, crowns, bridges, etc), it might be a good idea to get a night guard to protect your investments. Synthetic material is never as strong as your natural teeth, so the dentist might recommend that you get a mouthguard just in case.
So, should you get a store-bought night guard or a custom-made one from the dental office?
Well, store-bought might be better than nothing, but we have heard that they are not the most comfortable. Custom-designed night guards at our office are made from digital impressions of your actual teeth, so they fit like a glove. When night guards are purchased from the dental office, they can often be billed entirely or partially to insurance as well, so out of pocket expenses could work out to be around the same as store-bought - or even less.
It's important to mention that if you haven't seen an actual dentist for this issue - you definitely should, because night guards aren't for everyone. In some cases, patients who suffer from teeth grinding also suffer from sleep apnea - a condition where they stop breathing while sleeping. Sleep apnea can be life-threatening as air passageways are blocked, so have a professional diagnose you properly to get you the appropriate appliance - whether this is a dental appliance to help open up the air passageways or a CPAP or a night guard (depending on what issue(s) are presented and how severe they are).