Teeth grinding can be a painful and frustrating problem. Most people grind their teeth a little bit from time to time, but if you’re a chronic teeth grinder, then you’re familiar with the associated ache and discomfort. Once you’re able to determine whether or not you grind your teeth, you might be interested in using a retainer or a nightguard to soothe the problem. However, there are some key differences between the two appliances that you should consider before investing in either one.
Teeth grinding, known clinically as bruxism, is a persistent and unconscious grinding of one’s teeth. Bruxism usually occurs while someone is sleeping, but can also happen when a person is awake. Mild cases of teeth grinding may not need treatment. However, grinding your teeth can cause a variety of uncomfortable problems that are bad for your teeth and may begin to affect your day-to-day activities. Bruxism shouldn’t be confused with TMJ. These issues are similar, but not the same.
When we think about teeth grinding, we picture someone who is angry or stressed clenching their jaw in frustration. While stress and anxiety can be contributing factors in bruxism, it’s actually classified as and considered a movement disorder. The causes of teeth grinding can range from anxiety to an abnormal bite to crooked teeth — grinding can even be the result of an underlying issue like sleep apnea or other sleep disorders.
The symptoms of teeth grinding range from mild to severe and can include:
Grinding your teeth at night can even become disruptive to your partner while you sleep, as it can be loud enough to wake someone else up. If you think you may be struggling with teeth grinding, it’s best to seek a professional opinion.
If you see a dentist regularly, you may already be aware of a teeth-grinding issue. If that’s the case, they can direct you as to how to best proceed. However, if you develop bruxism after you’ve already had dental work like braces or clear aligners, you may think you’re in the clear by using a retainer.
After teeth-straightening procedures, your orthodontist will likely recommend a retainer. A retainer is a device that keeps your teeth from shifting back out of their newly aligned place in your mouth. Some dentists will fit you with a non-permanent retainer, while others may fix a retainer against your teeth permanently.
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If you have a retainer that you wear at night to keep your teeth aligned, you may be tempted to use your retainer as a means of soothing your bruxism aches and pains. In mild cases, this may suffice. However, a retainer and a night guard are two different appliances with their own uses. If you choose to use a retainer as a night guard, you may eventually begin to wear your retainer down, making it uneven and uncomfortable, or even crack it which would require a costly fix. When it comes to teeth grinding, choosing a night guard over a retainer is a better option.
A night guard is an orthodontic appliance that looks very similar to a retainer, but its function is not the same. Night guards are aligner-like trays that fit on either your upper or lower teeth to protect your teeth, gums, and jaws from the effects of teeth grinding. They can range from a soft, rubber product, to a harder plastic, and can be bought over the counter or created for you by an orthodontic professional.
It’s important to note that while night guards are similar to retainers, one should not be worn in place of your doctor-prescribed retainer. Night guards are usually looser and not designed to keep your teeth from shifting back out of place. An experienced orthodontist can help you determine the best course of action to alleviate bruxism.
Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire cure for grinding one’s teeth. There are steps you can take to try and alleviate the symptoms, but there is no single method. That being the case, you’ll have to wear your night guard for as long as you continue to experience bruxism.
On average, a night guard can last between 5 and 10 years. These times can vary based on the severity of your teeth grinding and whether or not you’re taking other steps to try and prevent it. Discuss your options with your orthodontist for an estimate based on the severity of your case.
Your orthodontist may recommend that you wear your night guard and your retainer on alternating schedules. However, you shouldn’t wear these two appliances together. Night guards are typically a little tougher and can be worn every night. But you shouldn’t neglect your retainer in favor of your guard. Your dentist can help you determine the best schedule and recommend a course of action.
When it comes to selecting a night guard you have a few options. If your dentist is aware of your issue, they may recommend a custom made night guard. If you choose this option, your dentist or orthodontist will craft a custom made night guard made of the best material for your specific need. It should fit comfortably and last quite a while.
Your other option is to go with an over-the-counter solution. Many stores and pharmacies sell various kinds of bite guards that might suit your needs. However, it’s important to note that if your guard isn’t a good fit for your mouth you may experience additional discomfort, especially in your gums and jaw. Ask your dental professional about your options and they can help you pick the best and most affordable option for you.
Dr. William Parris has been practicing dentistry in the Greater Memphis Area since 1985. He’s helped countless patients find relief from teeth grinding and other orthodontic issues. He and his compassionate staff will ensure that both your retainer and night guard are the best fit for you and your mouth. Your comfort and oral health are their number one priority.
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