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Night time mouth guards

Do you often wake with dull headaches or a sore jaw? It could be a sign that you’re grinding your teeth in your sleep.

Over time sleep bruxism, or teeth grinding, can wear down or loosen teeth and damage dental work. Clenching or grinding can even cause cracks to develop in your teeth. Not to mention those headaches or that jaw soreness upon waking.

Many people aren’t aware that they are clenching their jaw or grinding their teeth while asleep. In fact, more than 80% of people with sleep bruxism aren’t aware they have it.1 But it is a common problem that affects about 13% of adults and 3.5%–40.6% of children.2

Sometimes your significant other may notice because the grinding can be noisy. Or your dentist may notice that your teeth are more worn than normal. You may wake up with soreness or headaches. But the only way to know if it’s bruxism for sure is to see a dentist. Don’t have a dentist? Read the article “Dentist dilemma: How to start searching for the right dentist” for tips on how to find the right provider.

What causes nighttime grinding?

What causes you to clench your jaw or grind your teeth in your sleep? There are a number of things that can lead to bruxism. Here are some of the most common causes3:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Sleep disorders
  • Abnormal bite (top and bottom teeth that don’t line up correctly)
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) issues

A recent review of bruxism research found that these things also increased the odds of developing sleep bruxism4:

  • Binge drinking or heavy drinking of alcohol
  • Drinking eight cups or more a day of coffee
  • Smoking

At least one report suggests that the antidepressant Paxil may also cause night-time teeth grinding.5 But don’t stop taking the medication. First, be sure to confirm with your dentist that you are grinding your teeth. Then speak to the doctor who prescribed the medication to see if there is something else you can take.

Regardless of the cause, nighttime teeth grinding can damage your teeth, even if you aren’t feeling it. That’s why diagnosing and treating it is important.

Treating bruxism

How can you stop the pain and prevent bruxism from damaging your teeth? Reducing stress and tension and wearing a mouth guard are the most common remedies.

Reduce stress and anxiety6

  • Try relaxation techniques, meditation, counseling or exercise.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Make a habit of trying to relax your face and jaw muscles throughout the day.

Biofeedback, hypnosis and other alternative therapies may also help, but they haven’t been studied by experts.

Relax your jaw7

If you experience jaw pain when you wake up, you can try a few things to relax your muscles. You might consider:

  • Stretching or massaging your jaw to help loosen muscles.
  • Applying ice or wet heat to ease any pain and relax your jaw.
  • No longer chewing gum. This will help rest your jaw muscles.
  • Avoiding eating hard or chewy foods, as they can aggravate your jaw.

Anything you can do to loosen your jaw (without overworking it) will help.


If none of these suggestions work, your dentist or physician may recommend medication.

  • Muscle relaxants can help loosen a tight jaw.
  • Injections of botulinum toxin (Botox®) may also help loosen muscles.
  • Anti-anxiety medication may relieve some of your stress and decrease the grinding.

If you can’t relieve enough stress to control the bruxism, other options are available.

Nighttime mouth guards

Your dentist may recommend you use a mouth guard while you sleep to stop further damage to your teeth. These guards cover either your top or bottom teeth and lessen the impact of grinding.9 Some mouth guards are also designed to keep your jaw in a more relaxed position to alleviate soreness or headaches.10

Store-bought mouth guards

The most inexpensive option is mouth guards you can purchase at any drugstore. Some are ready-to-use, but may not fit comfortably. Others need to be heated in water or microwaved to soften, so you can custom fit them to your teeth.

These guards will help prevent your teeth from grinding against each other and help reduce the pressure on your jaw. This may help with headaches and soreness. However, these store-bought mouth guards may be tough to fit if you have an unusual bite or extremely crooked teeth.

Custom mouth guards

Your dentist can fit you with a custom mouth guard, sometimes called a mouth protector or splint, that is professionally fitted to your top or bottom teeth. An impression of your teeth is taken and then sent to a laboratory where special materials are molded to fit the impression.

These mouth guards are more expensive because they are custom, but they are the most comfortable and offer the best protection because they are fitted to your teeth.

Sleep apnea and mouth guards

If you have sleep apnea, speak to your dentist before trying any type of mouth guard. It’s rare, but nighttime mouth guards have been found to worsen breathing problems in people with sleep apnea.11 Be sure to alert your dentist if you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, or suspect you have it.

A nighttime mouth guard can only help if you use it. Your symptoms will return if you do not wear the guard consistently.

Dental work

For cases of sleep bruxism caused by an abnormal bite or crooked teeth, your dentist might consider resurfacing or shaving down any rough spots off of your teeth. Inlays or crowns can also be used to correct uneven surfaces and improve your bite.12

Ending the nightly grind

Since we all experience stress from time to time, the bruxism may pass once the stress in your life has been resolved.

If you still find yourself asking, “Should I wear a mouth guard?” make an appointment with your dentist. He or she can assess any damage to your teeth, look for issues with your bite, and recommend the right treatment for you.

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This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed medical professional. You should consult with your doctor to determine what is right for you.