Bruxism (BRUK-siz-um) is a condition in which you grind, gnash or clench your teeth.
-Excerpt from the Mayo Clinic website, www.mayoclinic.org
- Do you wake up in the mornings with dull headaches?
- Do you consistently have pain in your jaw?
- Have you ever noticed yourself clenching your teeth when you’re concentrating or stressed?
- Do you grind your teeth?
If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, you may suffer from bruxism and might benefit from an occlusal guard, sometimes also called a night guard. Have no fear, you are not alone! One study suggests over 3 million people suffer from bruxism in the United States each year.
An occlusal guard is a small, customized, transparent oral device that fits over a person’s lower teeth, which helps prevent them from clenching their jaw muscles and gnashing their teeth, thus relieving the associated tooth and jaw pain.
We all have temporomandibular joints (TMJ) that connect our jaws to our heads. You are able to feel these joints by placing your fingers on either side of your jaw and opening and closing your mouth a few times. This area on your face is an incredibly complex mix of joints, strong muscles and powerful ligaments. This area is easily irritated and has the potential to cause you a lot of pain. The TMJ is the location of the pain; bruxism is most often the actual diagnosis.
There are many things you can do yourself to help relieve bruxism pain. Reducing stress, staying rested, oral exercises, reducing or eliminating chewing gum, reducing caffeine intake, and applying heat or ice to the joints are just a few options to try. Consulting with your physician about any medications you are on can also be helpful since some medications can contribute to bruxism. If you’ve exhausted these ideas and are still experiencing pain or you need to take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to experience relief, an occlusal guard might be a good fit for you.
Typically, the recurring jaw pain is discussed between doctor and patient at a hygiene appointment or during a regular dental visit. Once bruxism is officially diagnosed, it’s a fairly quick and easy process to procure an occlusal guard through our office. We start by taking impressions of your teeth. The impressions are sent to a dental lab and the lab creates a slim, clear occlusal guard that is a perfect fit over your lower teeth. We have you return to our office about a week later to deliver the occlusal guard, make sure it fits you well, make any adjustments and answer any additional questions you may have.
The best part about an occlusal guard: it’s easy to wear! It’s not big and ugly. It’s nearly unnoticeable while worn. Taking care of your occlusal guard is easy too. Simply rinse it with clear water after each use and allow it to air dry (out of reach of pets, of course). Or brush it gently with your toothbrush and a tiny amount of toothpaste when you feel it needs a little more attention, again letting it air dry.
Many dental insurances include coverage for occlusal guards. We are happy to send a preauthorization to your dental insurance company to determine if your insurance will supplement the cost of an occlusal guard. Regardless of dental benefits, an occlusal guard is a wise investment if you suffer from bruxism.
We typically recommend wearing the occlusal guard while you sleep, when it can help reduce the most amount of stress inflicted on the TMJ area, although some patients wear it during the day too. The bruxism pain is usually relieved quickly, most often within a week or two. It’s normal to go through periods of life when you experience more stress than normal or are not sleeping restfully. If you take a hiatus from wearing your occlusal guard and experience the bruxism pain returning, simply begin using the occlusal guard again. We highly recommend wearing an occlusal guard every night to maximize the benefits of the appliance and to experience consistent pain relief.
If you feel you’d benefit from an occlusal guard, please discuss it with us at your next dental appointment. We’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about both bruxism and occlusal guards. The more you know, the better off you are!
– Written and submitted by Stephanie Jugovich, staff member at Pike Lake Dental Center