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Night guards, oral appliances and your jaws! Or, how I learned to stop grinding and start deprogramming.

“My dentist told me I grind my teeth” is a common phrase overheard with the subtext “but I don’t think I do”.  So why are you wearing night guards?

If you know that you are a tooth grinder, and you have been tested and are free of sleep apnea, by all means wear your night guard.  The grinding is a brain-mediated habit that cannot be changed.  This seems to be unrelated to stress, your bite or other causes, and unless your teeth are protected, you will end up grinding your teeth down to stubs.

Acrylic Night Guard
A typical acrylic night guard designed to prevent grinding of teeth. The outer surface is flat and smooth to allow for unimpeded jaw “skating” and not jaw immobilization.

(Personal training bias here):

However, a substantial proportion of “grinders” are in fact people whose bites are off.  If you are unaware of nighttime grinding, or you have never been told that you grind (or if you freakily take video of yourself while you sleep for some weird reason-and-you-just-keep-that-reason-to-yourself-mister), then perhaps you really aren’t grinding!

Then if your grinding is not during sleep, when ARE the teeth wearing down?  The answer may be: with every chewing motion of your jaw.

In a normal jaw, the chewing motion should be up and down.  People are “supposed to be rat-chewers, not cow-chewers”.

The answer to the question is in jaw alignment.  If your jaw alignment is off or there is friction when teeth contact, it will chew more like a cow, and it is that type of lateral movement that causes the wear on teeth.  Every time you chew, without you even knowing it.  This type of tooth wear is a silent phenomenon.  Think wheel alignment on your car.

So how does your jaw alignment get thrown off?

If you notice these things about your bite, your teeth may be the culprit.  The way they close together may be guiding your jaw to a place that your jaws do not perceive as “on-centre”:

– do you notice that you have more than one bite?

– do you notice that you need to squeeze your teeth together to get them to fit properly?

– do you notice that you prefer to hold your jaw in a position other than your normal bite position?

– do you feel that your bite “just doesn’t feel right”?

– do you feel that there is a tooth getting in the way of comfortable jaw closure?

– do you feel that your bite is different when you wake up, but then re-sets itself after a while?

– have you broken teeth that did not have large fillings while chewing food?

– do you have jaw pain while chewing hard or very chewy foods (tough breads, raw carrots, granola, for example)?

A “yes” answer to any of these questions could signify a bite problem.

The solution?  Our approach is to provide people with a simple retainer-like appliance that is worn for a few weeks.  This appliance allows your jaw to find a comfortable resting spot, and when that spot is found, the treatment is to modify your bite to re-create that bite position.  Treatment may range from orthodontics, to bite adjustment, to more involved bite reconstruction.

A Kois deprogrammer.
A Kois deprogrammer. This device resembles a child’s orthodontic retainer but is designed to allow only front tooth contact. By taking away posterior tooth contact, and thereby the brain’s cues to tooth positions, it will allow the jaw to find its own comfortable position. This can often be a springboard towards further bite reconstruction with the confidence that the correct bite is used.  When worn, the device is not very visible except for a wire at the front and is definitely not painful.  In fact, it is often able to relieve jaw pain as jaw muscles are not asked to work so hard.

If you think your bite is off, or your bite is just not comfortable, or you would just like a complete oral evaluation, please contact us!  We’d love to be your dentist in Barrie.

Dr. Elston Wong Portrait

About Dr. Elston Wong

Dr. Elston Wong completed his dental degree at The University of Toronto in 1999 before arriving in Barrie in 2002. After graduating, he continued to learn everything he could about dentistry. Now he has taken the time to share important information for anyone to read.

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