What Happens if I Don’t Wear My Nightguard?

If Dr. Chowning and our hygienists have recommended a nightguard for clenching or grinding, that means they have seen signs of damage to your teeth, gums, muscles or jaws.  As part of our commitment to preventive dentistry, we believe it is essential to catch these signs of damage as early as possible and give you the tools to prevent more!

What Kind of Damage Results from Nighttime Clenching and/or Grinding?

There are many different ways clenching and/or grinding damages the teeth.  It is not likely for a single person to show all of these signs of damage.  Your dentist and hygienist will put together the pieces of the puzzle if you show signs that point to a bad nighttime habit.

It is important to note that because this happens when you are asleep, you do not have control over it!  This is why nightguards are so instrumental in protecting you against this subconscious habit.

Some of the damage caused by nighttime clenching and/or grinding is listed below with a brief explanation of each.

Cracked teeth

Enamel is strong.  It is the hardest substance in the human body, even harder than your bones.  Although it is the hardest material in our bodies, it is not meant to absorb forces heavier than normal chewing.  We have seen countless teeth cracked by heavy clenching or grinding.  Teeth weakened by cavities or large fillings are more likely to crack because their enamel has already been disrupted.  Heavy clenching forces during sleep can even crack teeth that are otherwise perfectly healthy.

Cracked teeth range from minor surface cracks to through-and-through tooth fractures.  Treatment of these cracks depends on the extent of the crack.  Cracks in enamel allow bacteria to penetrate the tooth, making cavities more common in cracked teeth.

Attrition (Wearing Away of Enamel)

Attrition is a condition that occurs when clenching or grinding causes a slow gradual wearing away of the enamel, resulting in a flattened and shortened tooth or teeth.  Attrition is very common in people who have clenched their teeth for a long period of time.  Heavy attrition usually means that the enamel is completely missing, and the core of the tooth (dentin) is exposed.  Not only is attrition unhealthy for teeth, it also makes for an unattractive smile.  Unfortunately, flatter, shorter teeth make you look old.

Severe attrition can require extensive dental work to rebuild the teeth to their original contour.  Catching it early and taking preventive action (like wearing a nightguard) can prevent the need for lots of expensive dental treatment in the future.

Gum Recession

Forces that are too heavy cause microscopic movements and flexing in the teeth.  Sometimes these forces affect the attachment of the gums to the teeth.  The gums tend to back away or recede from these inappropriate forces.  Gum recession exposes the roots of the teeth, increases your risk for cavities, and causes sensitive teeth!

When severe, gum recession requires grafting surgery to repair it.  Just like attrition, catching gum recession early and taking preventive action can save you time and money in the dental chair.

Headaches and Facial Pain

Many patients experience symptoms in their head and facial muscles from heavy clenching and/or grinding while they sleep.  The muscles that close the teeth together are skeletal muscles, just like your biceps.  If they receive lots of exercise, they get larger and may cause soreness.

How Does a Nightguard Help?

A nightguard is a physical barrier between your teeth.  It prevents attrition by separating the teeth so that they cannot grind away enamel.  A nightguard prevents things like cracks, gum recession, and headaches by reducing the amount of force your jaw muscles can produce.

Because the teeth cannot completely clench when a nightguard is in the way, the muscles cannot fully contract.  This takes away some of the strength of the clenching and grinding.

What if I Clench or Grind My Teeth During the Day?

Daytime clenching is a little more complicated because most people cannot wear a thick acrylic mouth appliance throughout their day.  It interferes with speaking, so unless you work alone at home without having to speak to anyone, it is a little impractical.

If you catch yourself clenching or grinding your teeth as you work, drive, exercise, or do chores, please talk to Dr. Chowning.  He has great information on habit-breaking techniques that can help you gain control of this daytime habit.

Do You Need a Nightguard?

If you know you are clenching or grinding your teeth at night, you probably need a nightguard.  If you’re not sure, ask Dr. Chowning, or one of our highly-trained dental hygienists.  They can tell you if you exhibit signs of this habit and get you pointed in the right direction: PREVENTION!

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