Reasons Your Mouthguard is Not Stopping your Teeth Grinding

What does it mean that you are having more trouble biting with your mouth or night guard or that your jaw is still hurting every morning from clenching? Aren’t these dental appliances supposed to make your bruxism better?  So why isn’t your mouthguard not helping your teeth grinding?


It’s a common issue among individuals who suffer from bruxism or teeth grinding to find that their mouthguard doesn’t provide the relief they had hoped for, at least not in the long term. Despite the initial expectations (and misconception,) there are various reasons why your mouthguard may not be effectively addressing your teeth-grinding problem.


Understanding these factors is crucial in finding a suitable and actual solution that works for you. Let’s explore some of the key reasons why your mouthguard might not be delivering the desired results and what alternative options could potentially offer more effective relief.


Common Reasons for Using a Mouth Guard or Night Guard


Dentists traditionally prescribe mouth guards or night guards for two conditions that share teeth grinding or clenching as a symptom: bruxism and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ or TMD.) 

When used during the night and while asleep, they are referred to as night guards, while they’re called mouth guards (or occlusal splints, bite splints) for every other application. 


The idea is that these oral appliances serve as protective barriers, preventing immediate damage to the teeth.

Before we dive further into the merit of dental guards to treat these conditions, let’s first understand what bruxism and TMD are:


Bruxism and Its Causes


Bruxism, the act of grinding or clenching teeth unknowingly and constantly, can lead to various symptoms, such as jaw pain, headaches, and worn-down teeth. Stress, anxiety, misaligned teeth, or sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea often cause it. Bruxism is normally classified depending on when and how it manifests. Teeth grinding during the day is called awake bruxism, while bruxism at night is called sleep bruxism. 


While awake bruxism is the more common of the two types, sleep bruxism, officially affecting 8 to 10% of the adult U.S. population, is thought to be underreported because of its nature as an unconscious behavior while the patient is asleep.


Symptoms of Bruxism

Both types of bruxism share some symptoms, like jaw pain, headaches, facial pain, tooth wear, and enamel erosion. Severe cases of both sleep and daytime bruxism can even lead to tooth damage like broken teeth, tooth sensitivity, and loss, along with temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) or other jaw joint disorders. 


However, morning headaches, sleep disorders, sleep disruption, and morning jaw pain are more common in sleep bruxism symptoms, as opposed to headaches that get worse during as the day goes by in the case of daytime teeth grinding.


Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ)


Temporomandibular joint disorder is a condition that affects the jaw joint and surrounding muscles, causing pain, stiffness, clicking or popping sounds, and difficulty in opening or closing the mouth. Bruxism can sometimes be both a symptom of TMD or a cause.


7 Reasons Why Mouth Guards Are Not Working


When it comes to mouthguards not working effectively, several factors could be at play. Issues such as inadequate prevention of jaw muscle tension, using a non-custom night guard, or selecting the wrong type of mouthguard can all contribute to their ineffectiveness. 


And among the top reasons why they’re not working as expected is that their function was misunderstood from the beginning. 


Both types of guards are useful tools to temporarily block the worst effects of grinding, and we’ve compiled 7 of the top reasons why they might not even be doing that job well:


1. Does not prevent behavior that causes jaw muscle tension 


Despite their intended purpose, mouthguards may not effectively prevent jaw muscle tension for some users due to certain factors. Jaw muscle tension is a common issue associated with teeth grinding.


While night guards are designed to provide a protective barrier between the upper and lower teeth, they may not address the underlying cause of jaw muscle tension. In some cases, individuals may continue to clench their jaw even while wearing a night guard, leading to persistent dental, muscle, and even nerve damage. 


Factors such as stress, misalignment of the jaw, TMJ problems, or other medical conditions can contribute to this ongoing tension. It is essential for individuals experiencing this issue to consult with a dental professional to determine the root cause and explore alternative solutions


“There’s a misconception about mouth guards that they prevent people from tooth grinding,” said Dr. Jamison Spencer of The Center for Sleep Apnea & TMJ in Boise, Idaho, who in the past has received samples from a company that makes bruxism treatment aids. Instead, mouth guards “provide teeth something to grind on other than other teeth,” he said. “Alone, they solve no dental problems.”- Wirecutter, New York Times


2. It is not a custom night guard


The effectiveness of mouthguards in addressing teeth-grinding issues may be compromised if they are not custom-fitted to the individual’s mouth. A custom night guard is specifically tailored to fit the unique contours of the wearer’s teeth and jaw, providing optimal protection against grinding and clenching.


Generic, over-the-counter mouthguards or over-the-counter night guards may not adequately cover the teeth, leaving them vulnerable to the forces generated by severe teeth grinding. Ill-fitting store-bought mouth guards can also be uncomfortable to wear, leading to non-compliance and reduced effectiveness in preventing dental damage.

To ensure the best outcome in managing teeth grinding, it is essential to invest in a custom-made mouth guard or night guard that offers a secure and personalized fit for maximum protection.


3. Wrong type of night guard


A common reason why mouth guards might not be effective in addressing teeth-grinding issues is the use of an incorrect type of night guard. When it comes to choosing the right night guard, individuals should consider factors such as their grinding severity and comfort preferences. Dental night guards, specifically designed for bruxism, must provide a customized fit that can help alleviate grinding pressure.


Soft night guards are suitable for mild cases, offering a cushioning effect. In contrast, harder night guards are better suited for moderate to severe bruxism as they provide more durability and protection. Dual laminate night guards offer more durability than soft custom night guards but are not as stiff or uncomfortable as hard night guards. 


Using the wrong type of night guard can lead to discomfort and inadequate protection, ultimately hindering the effectiveness of the mouthguard in addressing teeth-grinding problems.



4. Does not correct posture problems


Incorrect posture can significantly impact the effectiveness of mouth guards in addressing teeth-grinding issues. Poor posture can put a strain on the neck and jaw muscles, leading to  not only jaw pain and neck pain but also an increased likelihood of teeth grinding, also known as sleep bruxism.


When someone’s posture is misaligned, it can create tension in the jaw, causing them to clench or grind their teeth during sleep, even while wearing a mouthguard. This constant pressure on the teeth can render the mouthguard less effective in protecting against the harmful effects of bruxism.


Therefore, individuals experiencing teeth grinding should also consider addressing any underlying posture problems to enhance the overall effectiveness of their dental night guards or mouth guards in managing sleep bruxism.


5. Does not address stress and anxiety


Addressing stress and anxiety is crucial in ensuring the effectiveness of mouth guards for managing teeth-grinding issues. Stress and anxiety are common triggers for teeth-grinding problems and if left unaddressed, they can undermine the efficacy of mouth guards in preventing dental issues like severe or moderate teeth grinding.


Individuals experiencing high levels of stress or anxiety may continue to grind their teeth even while wearing a mouthguard, leading to persistent discomfort and dental damage.


To quote Jamison Spencer DMD again, these dental appliances only “provide teeth something to grind on other than other teeth.”


“Alone, they solve no dental problems,” like eliminating the habit of grinding your teeth at night. 


Therefore, it is essential to implement stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, exercise, therapy, or relaxation practices in conjunction with using a mouthguard


6. Might make GERD and gastrointestinal issues worse


When individuals wear a mouth guard for teeth grinding, they might unknowingly be increasing their risk of experiencing acid reflux or aggravating existing gastrointestinal problems like GERD.


The pressure exerted by the mouth guard can lead to the relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach acid to flow back up into the esophagus. This backward flow of stomach acid can result in heartburn, chest pain, and other symptoms associated with GERD. Moreover, the altered jaw position from wearing a mouth guard may also impact digestion and exacerbate gastrointestinal issues, making it crucial to consider these factors when using a mouth guard for teeth grinding.


7. Does not prevent sleep apnea and could make it worse


The efficacy of mouth guards in preventing sleep apnea is limited, and their use may even exacerbate the condition. While mouth guards are effective in protecting teeth from grinding during sleep, they do not address the underlying causes like sleep apnea.


In some cases, wearing a mouth guard can potentially worsen sleep apnea by inadvertently causing the lower jaw to recede, which can obstruct the airway further. This is especially true for individuals with moderate to severe sleep apnea.


It is crucial for individuals with sleep apnea to consult with a healthcare professional before using any oral device or appliance to ensure that their condition is properly managed and that the chosen treatment does not inadvertently worsen their existing conditions.


Other Options for Treatment for Bruxism


When traditional methods like mouthguards fall short in treating bruxism, other options that seek to solve the root cause, not just bruxism symptoms, can be explored.


Physical Therapy and Exercises


Physical therapy and targeted exercises offer alternative approaches for managing bruxism. Physical therapy techniques can help address muscle tension and improve jaw alignment, reducing the impact of teeth grinding.


Specific exercises can strengthen the jaw muscles and promote relaxation, complementing the use of a mouthguard in bruxism treatment. These therapies aim to alleviate the underlying causes of bruxism, providing a holistic approach to combatting the condition.


Improved Diet and Lifestyle


A nutrient-rich diet can contribute to overall health, potentially reducing stress levels and improving muscle function, which may help alleviate teeth grinding. Including foods high in magnesium, calcium, and vitamin C can support muscle relaxation and reduce tension.


Additionally, staying hydrated and avoiding stimulants like caffeine and alcohol can aid in promoting better sleep quality, potentially reducing bruxism episodes.


Embracing a healthy lifestyle that incorporates regular exercise, stress management techniques, and sufficient rest can also play a crucial role in addressing the underlying causes of teeth grinding.


Relaxation Techniques and Elimination of Everyday Stressors


Relaxation techniques play a crucial role in combating bruxism by reducing stress levels that often trigger teeth grinding. Techniques such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, and yoga can help individuals unwind and alleviate tension. By incorporating these practices into daily routines, individuals may experience a significant decrease in teeth-grinding episodes.


It is essential to identify and eliminate everyday stressors that may be exacerbating bruxism. Creating a calming bedtime routine, setting aside time for self-care, and practicing mindfulness throughout the day are effective ways to manage stress and promote relaxation, ultimately aiding in the reduction of teeth grinding and clenching.


Biofeedback Therapy


An alternative approach to managing bruxism, aside from traditional methods, involves utilizing biofeedback therapy to address the underlying causes of teeth grinding and clenching.


Biofeedback therapy, administered by a trained dentist or healthcare professional, aims to help individuals with this disorder gain awareness and control over their jaw muscle activity. Through sensors attached to the jaw muscles, patients receive real-time feedback on their clenching and grinding patterns.


This information enables them to learn how to consciously relax these muscles and reduce the frequency and intensity of teeth-grinding episodes. Biofeedback therapy can be a valuable tool in conjunction with other treatments to effectively manage bruxism and improve oral health outcomes for those struggling with this condition. More on this here.


Talk to Your Oral Health Specialist if the Night Guard is Not Helping


If your night guard fails to alleviate your teeth-grinding issues, consulting with your oral health specialist is essential. People often invest in guards to protect their teeth and manage grinding concerns. Still, when these bite guards do not provide the expected relief over time, it may indicate an underlying issue that requires professional attention.

When faced with persistent teeth grinding problems despite using a night guard, it is essential to seek guidance from your oral health specialist.


Your oral health specialist is trained to evaluate your specific condition, assess the effectiveness of the current dental guard or potential side effects, and recommend alternative solutions tailored to your needs. They may suggest adjustments, prescribe different types of night guards, or explore additional treatment options to address the root cause of your teeth grinding.


If your mouthguard is not helping your teeth grinding, it is essential to address this issue promptly to prevent further damage to your teeth and overall oral health.

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