Many people clench and grind their teeth at night while they sleep and most don’t realize they do it at all. Most of the time, when Dr. Estep asks patients about this, they report that they do not clench or grind at night. However, if Dr. Estep asks her patients about clenching or grinding, it’s because she can see signs of this in your mouth and teeth. Here are some of the clenching and grinding clues she sees in her patients everyday:
- Worn Enamel – Healthy teeth in healthy function don’t wear down. If your teeth are wearing down, something is out of balance causing the damage to your teeth. Often this wear comes from clenching or grinding at night.
- Scalloped Tongue – If the sides of your tongue are scalloped or indented, it is caused by your tongue pressing hard against the surfaces of your teeth. It takes great force of the tongue pushing against the teeth to cause scalloping. This force often coincides with clenching. The tongue pushes while the teeth clench, and also a suction force is created during clenching that adheres the tongue tightly along the teeth.
- Cracked Teeth – Nighttime clenching and grinding puts an enormous force on the teeth because certain protective mechanisms are turned off while you sleep. Awake, your brain protects your teeth and will not allow your clenching muscles to squeeze your teeth together at a maximum force. At night these protective mechanisms are turned off, and your teeth receive the full force of your muscle activity. Your teeth crack and fracture under the extreme forces.
Treatment for clenching and grinding at night is to protect the teeth using a night guard. There are dozens of different kinds of night guards available both over the counter and from your dentist. Dr. Estep recommends a hard acrylic night guard to protect your teeth. She also recommends investigating root causes for the clenching and grinding.
Recent science suggests sleep disordered breathing (such as sleep apnea) could be the root cause for severe clenching and grinding. Dr. Estep works with her patients to discover root causes for clenching as well as many other systemic symptoms.
What is the cost of a night guard? Professional lab-fabricated night guards usually cost between $500-$800. Dr. Estep makes a chairside professional night guard for about half that cost.