A dental night guard, also known as an occlusal guard, occlusal splint or bite splint, is a device placed on top of the teeth at night to prevent grinding and clenching. It acts as a layer to protect your teeth, alongside giving your jaw a rest while you sleep.
People with bruxism – the involuntary grinding of teeth at night – are often given a night guard to help with the problem. Most people with bruxism are completely unaware that they need a night guard, so how can you know for sure?
You wake up with teeth and jaw pain
If you’re grinding your teeth at night, you may wake up with significant pain in your teeth, jaw or face. Your jaw may feel stiff and sore from constant movement during the night. It may also click or pop when you chew or open your mouth. Bruxism can also affect the ears, causing a ringing or buzzing sound and occasionally hearing loss. Wearing a nightguard will prevent the grinding and clenching, therefore helping to prevent such facial pain in the mornings.
You wake up with a headache
Likewise, people with bruxism often experience headaches in the morning from the pressure they have been putting on their jaw when they sleep. The pain will generally be centred around the sides and back of your head. If you are experiencing headaches in the morning and are confident it is not from sight, tiredness or dehydration, make an appointment with your dentist.
Your teeth are worn or chipped
Bruxism can lead to teeth being worn down from the pressure of constant grinding and clenching. This will expose your teeth to sensitivity, so you may find that you struggle to eat very hot or cold foods. You can also tell if you have bruxism because your front teeth look shorter, cracked, flat or obviously chipped. The wearing down of teeth can eventually lead to fillings and crowns being needed, so wearing a nightguard is a good way to prevent further damage.
Whilst stress isn’t a direct reason for needing a nightguard, it can often be the cause of teeth grinding and clenching. If you go to bed feeling stressed, tense or worried, chances are you may inadvertently clench your teeth in your sleep. Try to relax before you go to bed by taking a long bath or trying breathing exercises.
Your partner has noticed
One of the most common ways people can find out that they have bruxism is because their partner has noticed them grinding and clenching their teeth in their sleep. It can be quite disruptive for someone you’re sharing a bed with and can prevent them from getting a good night’s sleep themselves.
Whilst all the above are common reasons for needing a nightguard, the best way to tell for sure is by making an appointment with your dentist. They will be able to tell if you have bruxism and can advise you on whether a night guard is necessary.