Mouthguards for Teeth Grinding: Are They for You?

If you grind your teeth at night, wake up with jaw pain and headaches, or have dental problems from grinding your teeth in your sleep, you may need mouthguards to offset sleep teeth grinding. The medical term for teeth grinding is bruxism, which can occur while you are awake or during sleep.

Many Americans struggle with both types of bruxism. However, if you grind your teeth while you are awake, behavioral modification with a counselor or doctor’s help can reduce how often you clench your jaw. Controlling or treating sleep bruxism is more challenging, but mouthguards may be sufficient.

While over-the-counter mouthguards are available, working with a doctor for a diagnosis of sleep bruxism is the best place to start. Sleep teeth grinding may be its own condition, but it can also be a symptom of other sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, which requires CPAP therapy.

Mouthguards Used to Treat Nighttime Bruxism

Signs that you grind your teeth while you sleep include:

  • Pain in your jaw muscles, around your face, or near your ears when you wake up.
  • Waking up with a headache, especially one that starts at the temples.
  • A locked jaw that does not loosen completely.
  • Grinding, clenching, or gnashing your teeth loud enough to wake up your partner.
  • Flattened or fractured teeth.
  • Chipped or loose teeth.
  • Worn tooth enamel, which could lead to weakness or cavities.
  • Increased tooth pain or sensitivity.
  • Damage inside your mouth from chewing your cheeks.
  • Disrupted sleep, fatigue, or daytime sleepiness.

You may assume that these symptoms have other sources, like stress or allergies. It is possible to have facial, jaw, and head pain from poor sleep, stressful events in your life, or allergic reactions to particles in your old pillows or mattress. However, if these symptoms appear consistently, you have simultaneous dental problems, or the above symptoms progressively get worse, you should speak to your doctor or dentist about your concerns regarding bruxism.

Risks for developing bruxism, or worsening bruxism symptoms, include:

  • Life stress.
  • Being an aggressive or easily frustrated person.
  • Being a child, as children are more likely to have bruxism than adults.
  • Some prescription medications like antidepressants.
  • Caffeine.
  • Family history of bruxism.
  • Other medical disorders.

Mild bruxism, which does not occur often, does not damage the teeth or mouth. It does not lead to much pain, and it rarely requires treatment. If you find that stress, allergies, or other triggers lead to an increase in bruxism for a short time, you may consider getting an over-the-counter mouthguard to wear until you can sleep better.

Moderate or severe bruxism can lead to broken teeth, tooth and gum infections, regular headaches, and jaw disorders, including temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ). To prevent damage, your dentist or doctor will prescribe a mouthguard.

If you are an adult who struggles with consistent bruxism, you may also consider asking your doctor for further diagnosis, as sleep teeth grinding in middle-aged or older adults can indicate an underlying medical condition. Sleep teeth grinding may be a symptom of:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD).
  • Some mental health conditions like anxiety.
  • Sleep paralysis.
  • Night terrors.
  • Parkinson’s disease.
  • Dementia.

Your dentist or your child’s pediatric dentist may be the first to notice signs of bruxism, but if you have other symptoms aside from sleep teeth grinding, consult your doctor for further information.

Regardless of underlying medical diagnoses, if you have sleep bruxism, you may be prescribed mouthguards to keep your teeth and jaws healthy.

Types of Mouthguards to Manage Teeth Grinding Symptoms

While mild bruxism rarely receives treatment, even in children, your dentist may prescribe mouthguards to reduce or prevent sleep teeth grinding. A mouthguard is designed to keep your teeth separated at night, so even if you move your jaw as you sleep, you will clench down on something that offers resistance but will not hurt your tooth enamel. This can also be better for your jaw in the long term.

Mouthguards can be either soft or hard, and they are usually made of a type of acrylic or plastic. Soft mouthguards are more often found over the counter, while hard mouthguards are typically made custom by prescription to fit your mouth.

Types of mouthguards for sleep teeth grinding include:

  • Stock mouthguards. While these are often associated with sports players, stock mouthguards that are designed to reduce sleep teeth grinding can also be found in drugstores. They cover your top teeth only, and they come in small, medium, and large sizes.

    Since they are not designed to fit your mouth specifically, they may not work as well as a customized option. Even so, they can be a good, temporary solution to mild bruxism symptoms.
  • Boil-and-bite mouthguards. These are also sold in many drugstores. They provide an inexpensive solution to mild nighttime bruxism. These devices come in one size at first, but you boil the mouthguard and create an impression of your teeth, giving you better customization to manage sleep teeth grinding.

    If you have moderate or severe nighttime bruxism, it is possible to chew through the soft material of these mouthguards, so you may need a prescription solution. These over-the-counter mouthguards are made from ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), which makes them affordable, flexible, and customizable.

    Boil-and-bite mouthguards are effective, easy to find, and adaptable. However, they do not last very long, and they only have about a six-month warranty. With use, they may lose their effectiveness, so you may need to buy replacements frequently.

    If you think you have bruxism or are not sure, you can try a boil-and-bite mouthguard for a few nights. If it helps to alleviate symptoms, relay this information to your dentist or doctor.

  • Custom prescription mouthguards. A dentist will work with you to fit this hard, acrylic mouthguard to your jaw and teeth, so you do not accidentally chew through or dislodge the device while you sleep. These mouthguards are also made for both your top and bottom jaws.

    Many dental insurance plans cover this type of mouthguard if you have been diagnosed with moderate or severe bruxism.

    These mouthguards are mostly made from acrylic, but your dentist may recommend other options. Of the hard, customized mouthguards, dual laminate is one of the most common. These are soft on the inside and hard on the outside, so your teeth are protected from grinding against each other, and your jaw muscles can bite into a material with little resistance.

    Custom mouthguards last longer, come with a longer warranty and will be monitored by your dentist or doctor. Because they are larger than other mouthguards, you may have a harder time adjusting to the feel of them.

    Completely hard mouthguards are applied to those with the most severe TMJ and bruxism symptoms. They are the most durable, with the longest warranty, and the most likely to prevent teeth from shifting due to the intense pressure during sleep teeth grinding. They will also be the most expensive, the thickest, and the hardest to adjust to physically.

Some mouthguards are promoted as a treatment for sleep apnea or snoring. While adding a mouthguard to treatment for these conditions can be helpful, it is more effective for people who snore infrequently or who have mild obstructive sleep apnea. Those with moderate or severe sleep apnea should work with a medical professional for more extensive treatment, like a CPAP machine.

How to Get a Mouthguard to Treat Bruxism

Boil-and-bite mouthguards can be found in drugstores or through online retailers. If you have frequent morning headaches, jaw pain, or tooth pain, this may be the first step toward addressing sleep bruxism. Try eliminating this problem with an over-the-counter mouthguard.

If you have severe symptoms from sleep teeth grinding, like broken or flattened teeth and TMJ, work with your dentist for a prescription and a custom mouthguard. The American Academy of Oral Medicine (AAOM) states that, with a custom mouthguard, short-term prescription of a low-dose muscle relaxant may alleviate some pain in the morning.

To adjust to your mouthguard, you can start with boil-and-bite mouthguards to see if they help your pain sufficiently. If you need a prescription fitting, work with your dentist or doctor to get the best fit possible.

  • Ask for the thinnest possible material for your diagnosis.
  • Make sure to wear the mouthguard every night for at least four to six weeks to make it a habit.
  • Put the nightguard on earlier in your nighttime routine, so you get used to it while you are awake.

While your dentist works with you to create a custom mouthguard to stop sleep teeth grinding, they may also recommend lifestyle changes. These should be implemented alongside wearing the mouthguard to manage bruxism symptoms.

  • Reduce your caffeine intake or quit caffeine altogether.
  • Find ways to relax and manage your stress, like deep breathing exercises.
  • Exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet.
  • Stop chewing non-food items, like gum.
  • Train yourself to relax your jaw during the day, which can help to relax your jaw muscles.
  • Take calcium and magnesium supplements.
  • Learn more about sleep hygiene, including relaxing things to do before bed that do not involve screens.

Allergies as the Cause of Sleep Teeth Grinding

If you snore or grind your teeth in your sleep, you may struggle with nighttime allergies. You should work with a doctor on methods to reduce sleep teeth grinding, which may include using mouthguards. Your doctor may also recommend several other approaches to manage these symptoms, so you can get better rest and have fewer allergic reactions during the night.

One solution is to replace your old mattress. Many people use mattresses for longer than ten years, but you should replace your mattress about every eight years. Getting a new mattress, especially one made from hypoallergenic materials, reduces how many allergens you are exposed to at night, so you will snore less and clench your teeth less often.

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