It’s not uncommon for a person to occasionally clench their teeth or even grind them from time to time. But teeth grinding, or bruxism, can be detrimental if it’s done on a regular basis. Typically, teeth grinding is done at night when the person may not even be aware of what’s going on. It’s common for underlying factors, such as stress and anxiety, to enhance the signs and symptoms of teeth grinding. The true cause of the habit the majority of the time is an abnormal bite from missing, poorly shaped and/or crooked teeth.
Because teeth grinding is most often done during sleep, it can be difficult to tell whether or not you have a grinding problem. Waking up with jaw pain or a minor headache is a telltale sign, as is your significant other hearing you doing it as you sleep. So if you suspect that you do have a teeth-grinding problem, it’s important to consult with your dentist, as any prolonged grinding can result in the likes of:
- Fractured, loose, worn or damaged teeth
- Daily headaches (upon awakening or in the late afternoon most commonly)
- Popping or clicking in one or both jaw joints
- Limited opening or ability to move your lower jaw to the left, right or straight forward
- Focused pain around the ears as a result of joint damage
Thankfully, teeth grinding isn’t difficult to address – two often used treatment options are a bite guard or bite balancing. Here’s a look at the similarities and differences between the two corrective dental measures:
Bite Guards 101
In a nutshell, a bite guard is a dental appliance that’s worn at night to place the jaw joint in its most stable position and to allow the jaw muscles to relax. Bite guards are typically made of acrylic, a clear plastic material. Bite guards redistribute force across the whole bite, creating a perfectly balanced bite of natural tooth against hard plastic. A Bite guard is not like a set of braces for the teeth or a brace you might wear to correct a pigeon toed walk. When the bite guard is worn it allows the joint and muscles to be stable, when it is not being worn you are back to your “old” bite again.
Bite Balancing 101
Also known as “occlusal equilibration,” this is a process that will even out a patient’s bite by reshaping teeth it until the bite is balanced and stable. The process is completed in a matter of three visits with Dr. Gardner.
While bite guards and bite balancing have the same end goal – protecting the jaw joints, relaxing the jaw closing muscles and perfecting the bite – the means of how they get there are different. Both options require a mold to be taken of the teeth. In the case of a bite guard, it’s so the guard can be made to properly fit. For bite balancing, it’s so the bite can be analyzed and corrected.
As previously noted, bite guards are typically worn at night, however under certain circumstances they are worn all day, to prevent the teeth from in order to protect the joints and quiet the muscles. The bite guard may be worn for a period of several weeks, months or even years.
Bite balancing is a more permanent fix, as a patient’s bite can be adjusted in just a couple of hours. Follow up appointments may be necessary to monitor progress or make any additional adjustments after a bite balancing, but generally speaking the process is much more definitive as compared to wearing a bite guard.