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"The Nightwatch"

posted Apr 6, 2014, 2:28 PM by Dr. Elham Khajavi


          The exact origin of the dental mouthguard is unclear.  Most believe the concept of a mouthguard originated in the sport of boxing dating back to the late 1800’s.   Boxers created “mouthguards” out of cotton, sponges, tape and even pieces of wood.  They would then clench the apparatus between their teeth to prevent injury.  But it was not until the early 1930’s that dental literature started mentioning the “dental nightguard.”

            The nightguard has evolved greatly since the archaic original version.  Today nightguards are not only used for sports purposes but are commonly used in dental practice to correct dental issues due to grinding or clenching of teeth.  The high-intensity contractions of the powerful muscles of the face cause pain to surrounding tissues, joints and other muscles.  By reducing the intensity of the clenching, we can minimize the source of pain to the patient.

            Most people do not realize they grind or clench their teeth while sleeping. Many will even deny that this is occurring.   But, once awake, they often have facial pain, ear aches, jaw pain, headaches or sensitive teeth.  The teeth start showing signs of stress in the form of fractures, cracks, worn down teeth or tooth enamel erosion or wear which your dentist will observe upon exam.    A dental nightguard provides relief from these problems and stops further mouth and jaw damage.

            There are basically two types of dental nightguards:  custom and over the counter.  A custom nightguard is made in your dental office and is more effective because it is designed specifically for your mouth.  This is accomplished by taking impressions of your teeth and the nightguard is fabricated to fit these exact specifications.    These nightguards offer a tight, snug fit over the upper teeth and are usually worn at night while sleeping.  There are instances, such as if you wear braces or have a fixed dental appliance already in your mouth, that your dentist will make a nightguard for the lower teeth as well.

 The second type of nightguard is the over-the-counter type.  This “one size fits all” does not match up exactly with your teeth.   They are often worn for sports and usually must be boiled in hot water before use so the plastic becomes pliable enough to fit over your upper and lower teeth.  Biting down on the hot appliance creates the impression for your teeth.  When the plastic hardens the nightguard matches the alignment of your teeth.  This type of nightguard does not offer the snug fit of a custom made mouthguard, and may not be as comfortable or effective for people with severe grinding or clenching issues.

Some of the reasons people may be grinding or clenching their teeth include stress and anxiety, suppressed anger, missing or crooked teeth and misaligned or abnormal bite.  Teeth grinding and clenching can also occur in people who have Parkinson’s disease.  Also, young children may grind their teeth as their teeth and jaws are developing.      

So, if you happen to find yourself waking up in the morning with a headache or pain in your jaw or your dentist notices wear and tear on your teeth, there may be an easy fix to relieve that pain - a dental nightguard!