Many people clench or grind their teeth to the point of destructiveness. Most people are completely unaware that they do it, because often they do it while they sleep. Partially because patients don't know they grind their teeth and also because the thought of wearing a night guard is pretty unappealing, I often get asked, "Do I really need a night guard?"
Bruxism (pronounced BRUK-sizm) is the medical term for forceful clenching and/or grinding of your teeth. It is considered a major cause of tooth problems. Some patients will say that they notice signs of wear, but it is not just a cosmetic problem (although worn down teeth can age you as bad if not worse than wrinkled skin).
The action of grinding- where your upper and lower teeth move back and forth with great force against each other- causes your teeth to flatten. Allowed to persist, grinding causes temperature sensitivity, pain because the wear gets down to the nerve, cracks in the teeth, receding gums and eventually lost teeth. To fix these, patients will need crowns, bridges, veneers, implants, extractions, & root canals. Grinding can also cause migraine headaches and pain in the shoulders, neck, back and ears.
Unfortunately, there really is no "cure" for bruxism. According to The Bruxism Association based in the UK, although other treatments such as biofeedback hypnosis, and even Botox has been tried to help with teeth grinding, research has shown the most effective treatment to date to be night guards.
Night guards that you can buy at the drug store are not custom fitted, they are either stock night guard or boil & bites. They are usually large, unattractive, poorly fitting and may even come out during the grinding. A dentist will take into account your specific situation. Depending on what your grinding pattern is, you may only need a smaller night guard that fits over just your six front teeth or you may need more full coverage. You dentist's office will take impressions of your teeth so that the dental lab can make a night guard that is the exact match to your teeth.
While getting a night guard from your dentist will likely cost several hundred dollars, it can be an extremely worthwhile investment in the long run. Because it is designed by your dentist to fit your teeth exactly, it is much more likely than a store bought guard to prevent you from needing more expensive dental work in the future. Also, in many case, dental insurance covers all or part of the cost.