I grind my teeth at night and wake up with headaches and jaw pain. Would a dental night guard help?

Answers from Alan Carr, D.M.D.

Dentists sometimes recommend dental night guards to prevent teeth grinding (bruxism), but there's conflicting evidence regarding their use. Studies show that dental night guards or dental appliances (splints) can protect the teeth and prevent tooth wear. But such devices may not help prevent teeth grinding itself or its symptoms, such as joint tenderness, jaw pain and headaches.

If you experience teeth grinding while sleeping — or have other signs or symptoms of this condition — be sure to see your dentist. He or she can diagnose the condition and help you decide on treatment options. If you decide to try a dental night guard, consider the following points for best results:

  • Choose a custom-fit device. Your dentist can make a custom mouth guard to fit your mouth. Over-the-counter dental night guards are available and they're less expensive than custom guards, but they generally don't fit well and can dislodge during teeth grinding.
  • Choose a night guard that fits over all of your upper or lower teeth. A full-size splint gives you something to bite into and is less likely to shift during the night.
  • Avoid soft night guards. These devices break down more quickly than harder night guards. Also, soft night guards generally don't fit well and can dislodge during teeth grinding. A hard acrylic night guard is sturdier and may offer better results.
  • Follow your dentist's instructions. Place the guard in your mouth as instructed and wear it every night.
  • Be careful if you have other sleep disorders. A dental night guard isn't recommended if you have sleep apnea because it can worsen nighttime symptoms. Be sure to tell your dentist if you have a sleep disorder.
Jun. 26, 2009