What’s Wrong With Night Guards?
Night guards often come in hard plastic or soft rubber and are meant to protect your teeth from experiencing wear and tear. Recent studies suggest that they can be ineffective and potentially make your problems worse.
Experts, including those in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, and orthopedics agree that there needs to be a shift in professional’s understanding of the treatment and causes of bruxism. Experts believe bruxism is behavior like burping or yawning and not a disorder. By treating bruxism with a night guard, you’re simply putting a band-aid on an underlying problem. The true treatment for bruxism is treating the reason you’re clenching or grinding your teeth in the first place.
Clenching and Grinding Possibly Related to Breathing Issues
Frank Lobbezoo, is a researcher and professional and chair of the Academic Center for Dentistry in the Netherlands and claims that bruxism isn’t abnormal. He claims that it might actually be good for you. According to sleep studies, the majority of people have bursts of jaw activity throughout the night usually during non-REM sleep.
This muscular activity can open up the airway to increase oxygen intake at night. Bruxism also stimulates the salivary glands to help lubricate the mouth and neutralize gastric acid. If you suffer from sleep apnea or GERD, it can actually be dangerous to wear a night guard or splint.
Causes and Overtreatment for Bruxism
There’s a widespread use of bite guards, Botox injections, and tranquilizers to stop people from grinding their teeth in order to protect teeth from wear. However, there is no evidence that the patterns of tooth wear reflect current grinding habits. Instead, tooth wear is more commonly associated with eating an acidic diet. When the pH becomes too acidic, it can wear away the enamel and trigger bruxism which as a result increases the pH in the mouth. In this case, treating bruxism effectively would require treating the cause of the bruxism—which is an acidic diet.
Overproduction of stomach acid during times of high stress can also lead to worn and cracked teeth and jaw pain. This can explain the increase dentists have seen since the beginning of the pandemic. When people have more anxiety, they also tend to drink more alcohol, which can result in overrelaxed neck muscles. As the neck muscles relax, it can cause obstructions to the airway which would increase bruxism habits.
Another possible reason for bruxism is poor sleep hygiene or bad posture. If you sleep lightly or have bad posture, it can cause you to clench or grind your teeth. Your daytime habits can also come to bed with you. So if you have a tight, clenched-up posture during the day, you will also have it at night.
So how should you go about treating your clenching and grinding habits? It depends on your specific cause.