Recently, a patient visited us with a recurring problem that was causing them a lot of sleepless nights. They mentioned how they found themselves constantly clenching their teeth and while they couldn’t be sure – perhaps grinding them as well. Our team completed a thorough dental exam and given the challenges and stress so many of us continue to face as a result of the current (and seemingly never-ending!) Covid pandemic, we thought a good chat about the use of a night guard might be a topic more than just our visiting patient would be interested in. If you’re suffering from a lack of rest, perhaps a night guard is the answer to helping protect your ability to sleep!
Many people don’t realize that waking up with a headache or pain and stiffness around the jaw, the neck or even in the facial muscles can be a direct result of several dental issues. The first is that you might be unconsciously clenching your teeth/mouth during the night. Some patients may even experience ear pain and/or a ringing in the ears if the issue is particularly long term and problematic. The most obvious cause of this action is stress. In addition to clenching, the second issue arises from grinding your teeth, also known as bruxism, a topic we have discussed in the past. This too can be caused by a variety of factors but again stress is often high on the list of causes.
As we’ve suggested above, for patients who are experiencing a clenched jaw and/or bruxism, the results of these unconscious behaviours can be extremely damaging for your teeth and mouth – not to mention perhaps also to your mental health! Patients who clench and grind may also suffer from:
- Excessive wear and tear on their teeth
- Damaged teeth that are cracked and/or chipped – leading to potential cavities, even teeth that need to be repaired or removed.
- Misalignment of teeth/jaw – often also a cause of the issue in the first place.
- Sensitive teeth – due to the wear and tear.
- Tightened facial muscles – over the longer term, unaddressed issues can even lead to restrictions in your facial muscles perhaps impacting your ability to express yourself in the manner you are accustomed to.
- TMD/TMJ – chronic clenching and grinding can also lead to these two serious issues.
Is A Night Guard The Answer?
For many, a night guard might just be their ticket to a more restful nights sleep. It acts as a layer of protection for your teeth and helps to prevent the grinding action that may in turn also lead to clenching. If you suspect that your chronically tight jaw muscles are the result of clenching or grinding, your first appointment should be with your dental practitioner who will easily be able to identify the signs. At Brinkley Dental we offer a variety of night guard options that will help to protect your teeth, mouth and gums while you sleep. You may even find that a properly fitted night guard actually helps to improve your overall sleep patterns. In addition to a night guard, while we are not mental health experts, we can share these tips for a less stressful sleep:
- You may wish to avoid or cut back on foods that contain caffeine or sugar. Particularly obvious is the effect of caffeine on our ability to sleep and lack of sleep certainly impacts our overall stress levels.
- Cut back or avoid alcohol, especially later at night, as it’s known to intensify grinding.
- Train your brain! If you find yourself clenching, not just at night but during the day too – stick your tongue between your teeth to stop the clench. It will help to relax the jaw muscles.
- You may wish to look into other methods of relaxing and relieving stress such as introducing exercise into your daily routine, consider stress therapy or counseling if it is available to you, or perhaps even consider a muscle relaxant as a short term opportunity to release tension as you work on other areas of your life. This last method is best done under the advice of your dentist or family doctor.
We now know that some of the day to day causes of stress directly related to the pandemic are not likely to disappear anytime soon. The reality is, our recent visit from patient “X” is not the only one we’ve had where the primary complaint has been a sore jaw. We continue to see patients every day with damaged teeth, evidence of grinding or who have sensitive teeth and these are all issues that can be helped, at least in part, by the addition of a night guard into your oral health care plan. If you suspect this issue might be a problem you are having, schedule an appointment with your dentist today. We’re Brinkley Dental, the gentle family dentist located in north Brampton and serving Caledon, Brampton and the surrounding communities. We’d love to see you! Now – as always – we’ll leave you with this friendly reminder: “Don’t forget to be a BFF with your mouth and brush that smile!”