Bruxism is the clenching together of both the upper and lower teeth. Clenching can cause pressure on the muscles, tissues and other surrounding structures of the jaw, and can cause jaw joint disorders, headaches, neck pain, jaw pain, ear pain, tense muscles and excessive wear on the teeth. Collectively, these symptoms are referred to as "TMJ" problems (temporomandibular joint). Bruxism can cause damage to the temporomandibular joint (the hinge that connects the lower jaw to the upper jaw) if not treated. Bruxism is a common problem, it is estimated that 30-40 million Americans are affected by it.
A large number of people who clench also tend to grind their teeth. Grinding is when you slide your teeth over each other in a back and forth, sideways movement. Often the grinding is a subconscious behavior that is not realized by the bruxer. A partner or significant other is often the first to hear the noise of the bruxer's teeth grinding at night. If not treated, excessive grinding can wear down your teeth. The cause of bruxism is not completely known, but many agree that stress and anxiety play a major role.
Stress reduction and anxiety management are methods used to treat bruxism and reduce the symptoms, but a dental night guard is the most commonly used treatment method. A night guard is a horseshoe-shaped, retainer-like, plastic appliance with shallow borders that can be worn on either the top or the bottom arch. It is designed to protect the teeth from the pressure of clenching and grinding by providing a protective cushion between the upper and lower teeth. A night guard can be a simple, and affordable solution for protecting your teeth and jaws from the damaging effects of bruxism. When properly made, it can help reduce clenching, grinding and TMJ problems by helping to relax the muscles in the jaw.