When we sleep, we reach a state where we are not aware of what we are doing. Our subconscious processes take hold of us and our bodies are controlled by things like REM sleep or dreaming. Some other things that occur are primitive motor actions that we are not aware of. Some of us twitch, and some of us can startle as we reach deeper levels of sleep.
When we are stressed, some of the things that we do while we sleep involve our mouths. Our teeth and the muscles of the mouth take on a life of their own. Most of us clench or grind our teeth when we are asleep. Sometimes the sounds that can result can be so loud that we can awaken our sleeping partner and get a jab in the ribs to quiet us down.
An unseen result of clenching and grinding happens on a microscopic level, but when it happens for a long enough time the results can be very visible. Constant clenching and grinding can result in small fractures on the teeth that can enlarge over time and break the teeth. The same forces of grinding cause the bone and gums around the teeth to shrink away. When this happens, we call this recession.
When the gums recede, the exposed root is softer and can decay very easily. If clenching continues long enough, the tooth can loosen and can even fall out.
So, what can be done about this. Telling yourself to not grind your teeth when you fall asleep or falling asleep with your mouth open does not help. As soon as you are asleep your subconscious takes hold and ignores your conscious instructions.
A night guard is a useful tool to help prevent the damaging effects of clenching and grinding. It works on the principle of a snowshoe. When stresses are distributed over a wider area, the forces on each tooth are reduced and no dental damage occurs.
Some night guards are designed so they remind the subconscious brain to stop clenching and grinding. They are smooth like ice skating rinks, so the teeth slide around without stress and therefore no damage occurs to the muscles and ligaments. These are the most effective guards to minimize damage to your teeth.
The store bought, boil and bit type guards are usually too bulky and prevent sleeping altogether. In addition, sometimes they can cause teeth to fall out of alignment and require expensive orthodontic treatment to resolve. They can even cause TMJ or jaw discomfort because they cannot be easily adjusted to avoid stress to the joints and muscles.
Ask your dentist for advice on the best type of night guard and how to obtain and adjust it for the best results and to prevent the most damage at night for your teeth.