While teeth grinding, or bruxism, caused by clenched jaw muscles, does occur while you’re awake, sleep bruxism is more difficult to treat, as many patients are unaware that they even have the problem. The issue is so common, though, that New York City dentist Dr. Lana Rozenberg says one in four of her patients’ teeth show some type of wear pattern consistent with grinding. It’s also often only detected when seeking treatment for symptoms like headaches, facial or jaw pain, or worn-down teeth, or if a bed partner notices the grinding sound.
And though teeth grinding was thought to be the result of jaw or teeth misalignment, Dr. Brent Larson, director of the division of orthodontics at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, says, “We’ve learned that’s really not the case. People are wired to be grinders, and if they’re grinders, there are certain things that can make it worse.” Among these exacerbating factors are stress and anxiety, caffeine, alcohol, and certain medications. If you do suspect that you’re grinding your teeth at night, the best thing to do is visit the dentist for a full evaluation. In the meantime, or if your grinding is a problem associated with periods of high stress or poor sleep, dentists say over-the-counter mouth guards can be used as a short-term solution — our experts say two weeks — but are not recommended for long-term use.
“The intent is certainly not to treat anything of complex nature,” says Dr. Donald Tanenbaum, a board-certified TMJ and orofacial pain specialist. “If somebody has a true problem within the joint itself — a click, a pop, a lock, a profound inflammation — these devices really have no usefulness and they really shouldn’t be used.” What they can do is “diminish the impact to the teeth.” If you think this is what you need, our experts say the below over-the-counter mouth guards can provide some relief.
Best overall mouthguard
Only a doctor can fit you for a custom mouth guard, but for the best-fitting OTC alternative, look for a “boil-and-bite” guard that molds to your teeth. “Put it in hot water [to] soften it, and then you bite into it, and it sets,” says Rozenberg. “When it sets, you can trim [the excess material], and now you have a semi-custom-fitted guard.” One of her favorite boil-and-bites is this one from Oral-B, which has a pleasant, minty flavor and can also be softened in the microwave. Dr. Tannenbaum prefers the microwaveable ones to traditional boil and bite because they are made from a “thinner, lighter, more moldable material.” Dr. Brijesh Chandwani, a dentist specializing in facial pain and jaw-joint disorders, also recommends the Oral-B guard.
This mouth guard also covers all the teeth, which makes it a safer option to partial appliances, because there is less of a chance that your teeth will shift – one of the risks of wearing an OTC guard long term, says Dr. Nojan Bakhtiari, a board certified TMJ and facial pain specialist. “Teeth are stupid,” he explains. “Teeth don’t know when to stop growing unless they touch something. One of the reasons your teeth don’t keep drifting out of your jaw bone is because they touch each other at nighttime. So when you wear partial coverage appliances, your teeth could potentially start shifting on you.”
Best no-boil night guard
Because they’re ready to use right out of the box, one-size night guards, like these Plackers ones chosen by Rozenberg, are a quicker solution than boil-and-bite guards — as long as they’re a comfortable fit for your mouth. Designed to be worn on either the upper or lower teeth, these are disposable but can be cleaned with Efferdent tablets, toothpaste, or soap and water between uses. Dr. Bakhtiari says soap, water, and a soft toothbrush is preferable as “toothpaste is just gonna scratch it up and then it’s gonna accumulate bacteria faster.”
Best adjustable no-boil night guard
With a slimmer design than some of the other popular guards, Rozenberg says this DenTek model offers just as much protection while possibly feeling more comfortable. And even though you can’t boil it or warm it up in the microwave to conform to your teeth, it does come with a five-point adjustable band for a better fit. However, if you have a sensitive gag reflex, it’s best to go with a professionally-made guard, as even these low-profile OTC versions still come into contact with the roof of the mouth, which can be irritating. Also, Dr. Bakhtiari warns that a partial guard that doesn’t conform to your teeth (ahem, this one) can become dislodged during the night, and back sleepers “have a risk of it moving it around to the back of the throat.”
Best mouth guard for daytime grinding
While it’s perfectly suitable for overnight use, one of the benefits of this boil-and-bite mouth guard is that it can be worn at times during the day when you’re prone to grinding — like while playing sports or at the gym. “When people work out and lift weights, a lot of time they clench their teeth,” says Rozenberg. “As the body tenses, the jaw tenses as well because it’s one of the muscles.”
Best mouth guard for sensitive teeth
Chandwani likes this microwavable guard because it only covers the back teeth and won’t bother sensitive front teeth. The snug fit prevents the guard from moving around during the night, which can make it uncomfortable to wear and disrupt sleep.
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