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Maybe a night guard isn’t such a bad idea.

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I polish my teeth with an electric toothbrush, aim to floss daily (hey, I’m not perfect), and I’ve tried countless natural whitening products. I’m seriously doing the most when it comes to my oral health. But, when I started to wake up in the morning with sore teeth and jaws, I was confused (and a bit scared). Could it be a cavity, or worse, a dead tooth? I took my panic to the internet, and discovered that my symptoms could actually be a product of teeth grinding.

Grinding or clenching your teeth—also known as bruxism—can be caused by stress, airway issues (such as sleep apnea), and improper alignment of teeth as they are trying to find a ‘home’ when biting together, says Sheila Samaddar, DDS, member of the American Dental Association and President of the DC Academy of General Dentistry. While most grinding occurs at night while you’re asleep, it is also possible to grind during the day—either consciously or unconsciously—when concentrating at the computer or while working out, she adds. 

Although it’s a pretty common condition (research suggests up to 20% of people grind while sleeping), it can also cause painful side effects and do damage to your pearly whites. So we asked experts for the best ways to treat the issue—from professional fixes to at-home solutions that won’t break the bank.

How teeth grinding affects your health

Common health problems associated with teeth grinding range from headaches and dizziness to neck pain and tinnitus (ringing in the ears), notes Joe Willardsen, DDS, Founder of True Dentistry in Las Vegas and a Dental Advisory Board Member for Shyn. While this doesn’t sound *too* awful, he also points out that the habit can lead to more serious issues, like digestive problems (caused by the inability to chew properly) and a square face—yep, it can actually change the shape of your face by thickening the lower jaw. Yikes.

As for your teeth, some light grinding may have minimal damage but, done over prolonged periods of time, it can cause tooth fractures, chipping (abfractions) at the gum line, gum recession, pain, sensitivity, and even tooth loss, Dr. Samaddar tells Health. The pressure it puts on your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) in your jaw can cause pain, popping, and clicking, and could eventually cause long-term damage to the joint.

Best treatments for teeth grinding

Understanding the jaw’s neutral position and aligning your bite around that position is key, Dr. Willardsen says. For the best long-term results, he recommends working with a dentist or orthodontist to align your teeth properly. A dentist can design an anatomical orthodontic piece for you to wear, which mimics natural teeth to help determine the jaw’s optimal position. From there, the teeth can be restored or moved into the correct position. Many dentists will also work closely with a physical therapist or specialized chiropractor to ensure there is correct skeletal alignment, Dr. Willardsen adds.

Dr. Samaddar agrees, and also recommends metal or clear removable braces if you have crowded or crooked teeth that are hitting the opposite teeth in a damaging way. Teeth that hit in an aggressive manner will cause damage with grinding and chewing. “It is much less invasive and expensive to treat issues in the early stages with a night guard or orthodontics, than [it would be to] have to fix teeth after the damage is done, which could include fillings, crowns, root  canals, extractions, or implants,” Dr. Samaddar explains. 

“If your grinding is in conjunction with snoring, poor sleep patterns, waking up tired (even after spending ample time in bed), or possibly even ADHD symptoms, you should speak to your dental provider about a referral to an ENT who has experience with sleep medicine and sleep apnea,” advises Dr. Samaddar.

Looking for a short-term fix? Dr. Samaddar suggests pressing a warm, moist washcloth to the face to help relieve muscle tenderness and taking Motrin (or another form of Ibuprofen) to reduce inflammation. Another minimally-invasive solution is to invest in a night guard. While it’s ideal for scans or molds to be made in a dental office—so that the fit is accurate and correctly protects the teeth, gums, and joint—if your bite is in the correct alignment, then an OTC night guard could also potentially work, Dr. Samaddar says. 

Our experts recommend discussing solutions for your teeth grinding habit with a dentist before purchasing a night guard. However, once you have the green light, here are some OTC night guards you can wear overnight to wake up with less soreness—and give yourself a little peace of mind while you sleep.

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