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Why teeth grinders and mouth pain sufferers should consider a nightguard

Posted May 29, 2019 5:00 a.m. EDT

If you have mouth or facial pain issues that fall into any of the categories below, you should check in with your doctor or dentist for a diagnosis and to discuss treatment options. (Kasia Bialasiewicz/Big Stock Photo)

This story was written for our sponsor, North Carolina Dental Society.

Mouth and jaw pain can develop due to common issues ranging from toothaches and arthritis to anxiety and sleep disorders. These innocuous but frequently painful conditions can lead to constant headaches, earaches and dizziness, leading to a lack of sleep and interference with everyday life.

If you have mouth or facial pain issues that fall into any of the categories below, you should check in with your doctor or dentist for a diagnosis and to discuss treatment options.

Teeth Grinding

If you notice your teeth are painful, loose or fractured, the enamel on your teeth is wearing down, your jaw is sore, or you have frequent, dull headaches or ear pain, you may be grinding your teeth when you sleep. This condition is called bruxism and is typically done unconsciously, which makes it difficult to diagnose before complications develop.

"Teeth grinding in adults is often caused by stress, anxiety or sleep disorders, but it can also be due to missing or crooked teeth or an abnormal bite," said Dr. Shelly Soch in Cary.

This uncomfortable condition is also twice as likely to develop in those who smoke or drink than in those who abstain from alcohol and tobacco.

Bruxism can be linked to certain health or medical disorders such as epilepsy, Parkinson's Disease, GERD, sleep apnea, ADHD and dementia, and it is found more frequently in those with competitive, aggressive or hyperactive personalities.

Having family members with the condition may also increase your chances of developing it.

Children may also grind their teeth, but this condition usually begins because of allergies, misaligned teeth or some kind of irritation in their mouths. Typically, children will outgrow teeth grinding as their teeth and jaws change over time.

TMJ Disorders

When the temporomandibular joints – joints located in front of each ear that connect your jaw to your skull – aren't working properly, they can cause significant headaches and pain around the jaw and ear.

You may notice TMJ disorders due to the characteristic clicking or popping noises that occur when opening your mouth, your jaw getting stuck as your mouth is open or closed, or if you have trouble or discomfort chewing. Those with TMD may also have pain in the shoulders or neck, experience dizziness or notice a ringing in the ears.

TMD can be caused by several factors, including injuries such as whiplash, dislocation, alignment issues, teeth grinding and arthritis in the joint.

Chronic Jaw and Facial Pain

While there are many things that can cause facial pain, including sinus congestion, toothaches or early-stage periodontal disease, those suffering from chronic pain in or around the ear, jaw tenderness, headaches and pain when chewing may experience relief with the help of a nighttime mouth guard.

Additional solutions may include muscle relaxants or physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, or antibiotics, and will depend on the underlying cause of the pain.

Dental exams and X-rays are often needed to determine the cause, and from there your dentist may recommend a night guard.

The Benefits of Night Guards

Depending on the cause of your jaw or facial pain, a mouth guard worn as you sleep may be the best solution.

"Night guards, also known as occlusal guards, are custom fit appliances that are similar to an orthodontic retainer," Soch said. "They are made to fit over either the upper teeth or the lower teeth, and are worn nightly to prevent wear on your teeth from grinding."

These lightweight devices can be purchased over the counter at most drugstores or made from impressions taken of your teeth at your dentist's office. Custom bite guards are more expensive than their drugstore counterparts but align perfectly to your mouth and teeth.

If you do not have a family dentist, this Find-a-Dentist tool can help you locate one close to you.

This story was written for our sponsor, North Carolina Dental Society.