Why Was I Prescribed a Night Guard?

Here you are, heading home from your most recent dental visit contemplating why your dentist prescribed an occlusal guard, also referred to as a night guard. After all, you sleep well and certainly don’t notice that you grind your teeth. The fact is, unless your bedmate tells you, you may be completely unaware of your destructive night time habit. It is estimated that 1 in 10 adults grind or clench their teeth regularly in their sleep and most of them don’t realize it until their dentist notices signs of worn down or cracked teeth. Symptoms such as jaw pain, headaches, a clicking sound in your jaw and sensitive teeth have all been attributed to night time grinding. The technical term for tooth grinding is bruxism.

Bruxism can not only impair your sleep quality and damage teeth, but in severe cases it can lead to TMJ (tempromandibular joint) disorders, and can cause gum recession and worsen periodontal disease. Grinding can not only cause damage to your teeth, but can also damage expensive dental work that you have invested in like crowns, bridges and implants.

Luckily there are ways to protect yourself from the harmful effects of night time grinding. Because bruxism can have many causes there is no single treatment to completely eliminate the condition. Stress is a likely factor, so practicing relaxation techniques can help. Smoking and drinking alcohol can also contribute, so it helps to cut back or abstain, at least late into the evening. The main treatment for bruxism is to wear a night guard during sleep. Your dentist takes impressions of your teeth and has an acrylic guard custom made for your mouth. A guard won’t prevent all grinding, but it can redistribute the forces exerted while grinding and protect your teeth and dental work. It may help you get used to keeping your jaw unclenched thus helping during the day while it isn’t being worn. Custom night guards can be costly and often times aren’t covered by insurance, but the protection they offer is invaluable. Inexpensive over the counter night guards are available at drug stores, but being bulkier and not custom fit they are likely to cause additional problems like an altered bite or mouth sores. Discuss such devices with your dentist before using one.

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The Holiday Grind

It’ s that time of year again! As we are bustling about getting ourselves prepared for the upcoming holiday season, listening to songs declaring it’s the most wonderful time of the year, and trying to juggle our normal hectic lives and the new demands that shopping, baking and parties are putting on us, some of us may be feeling less than jolly. Even if you are not quite ready to declare, “Bah-Humbug”, do you realize the effects that added stress could be having on your oral health?

Stress has been linked to ailments such as canker sores, teeth grinding, TMJ (pain in the jaw joint) from clenching, dry mouth, and gum inflammation.  Your body reacts to chronic stress by producing the stress hormone in your body called cortisol.  This cortisol weakens your immune system, and your weak immune system allows plaque’s harmful bacteria to invade your gums, making your food choices and good oral hygiene even more important.  

Everyone reacts to stress differently. Two of the most common stress-coping mechanisms that we see during the holidays are nighttime grinding or clenching as well as stress eating, or indulging on holiday candies, cookies, and sweets.  When we clench or grind our teeth, we exert immense pressure between the teeth, and ultimately tooth enamel wears off and gums recede.  As for our overindulgence on holiday treats, the high sugar content creates a breeding ground for bacteria in your mouth, and this bacteria produces the tooth decaying acid which causes cavities. Even if you avoid the obviously sugary treats like egg nog or hot chocolate, the extra glass of wine, or crackers and cheese can have the same effects. Wine is erosive, and the high carbohydrate content in wine and other party foods can be a perfect breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Beware of foods like peanut brittle, or biting hard candies, as it is easy to crack a tooth while eating them.

It’s important to remember not to neglect yourself or your oral health this holiday season.  Sometimes you can get so wrapped up in the holidays, your commitments, your family, and your friends that you lose sight of what is really important….you and your health. Stick to your normal healthy diet and exercise program as much as possible, and remember to take some time for yourself. Dr. Glass and his staff would like to wish you a very happy and healthy holiday season!