WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A BITE GUARD?
The purpose of a bite guard is to protect the teeth, the jaw muscles and the jaw joints. The main destructive forces that a bite guard is designed to reduce are wear of teeth, sore or painful jaw muscles and damage to the jaw joints. These pathologies can be progressive, meaning they get worse over time and people are generally unaware that any damage is occurring.
Wear is one of the most destructive forces that can shorten the life of a tooth, or indeed an entire dentition. Teeth are designed for chewing, speaking and swallowing, what we call functional habits. The enamel of a tooth is the hardest substance in the body and is well designed to handle functional forces. Tooth wear does not generally come from these functional forces, but from the parafunctional forces of clenching and grinding. For the most part people tend to clench during the day and grind at night. As the back teeth wear down they are not able to protect the front teeth properly and the front teeth become involved, often resulting in thinning or chipping, rough edges. Most people do grind their teeth at night and most people are unaware of doing it. These parafunctional clenching and grinding forces are what cause teeth to break and are a major cause of broken dental work as well. Grinding forces are exponentially higher that chewing forces, meaning we grind much harder than we chew and if tooth structure or dental work gets in the way it will lose, meaning it will break. One function of a bite guard is to separate the teeth, so they are not able to grind against each other.
Another function of a bite guard is to reduce jaw muscle activity during grinding. A bite guard cannot stop someone from grinding, but it can reduce the muscle strength used to do so resulting in much less wear and tear. Signs and symptoms of grinding can be overdeveloped size of jaw muscles, waking up with sore or tight jaw muscles, or jaw pain or tension headaches at the end of the day. If the jaw muscles are overactive and working hard at night they are at risk to become sore or painful at some point, often during a stressful time that pushes them over the edge. Anyone who has experienced muscle related jaw pain knows it can be a debilitating condition. A bite guard helps to ensure the muscles do not reach that point. Increased risks for nighttime grinding are snoring, acid reflux, sleep apnea, and certain anti anxiety medications.
The jaw joints are two of the most complex joints in the body. Clicking, popping or crunching in either joint is not normal, but means there has been some level of destruction within the joint. Most people’s teeth do not line up perfectly when they bite together, resulting in the joints being out of place and the muscles having to work to hold the jaw in place and with the muscles having to activate both they and the joint become stretched and stressed. The ligaments around the joint are not like rubber bands; they do not rebound back when they stretch but instead remain at the stretched length. A proper bite guard is designed to take the stress off of the joint and it’s supporting structures.
Not all bite guards are created equal. Most bite guards are protective only, separating the teeth but not helping (and maybe hurting) the joints and muscles. These are 80% of the bite guards made by dentists and are generally clear and can be softened when placed in warm water. To be truly functional a bite guard should be rigid to provide a solid platform to control the bite, for only then can the muscles and joints be protected with less stress. Bite guards at Comprehensive and Cosmetic Dental Studio of Greenville are custom made on site to the highest specifications ensuring that all three phases of potential destruction are addressed: the teeth, the muscles and the joints.