'Tremendous overtreatment for a non-problem': Some experts say mouth guards won't solve teeth grinding

Some experts believe mouth guards may not prevent teeth grinding, and in some cases, may even make it worse, reports The New York Times.

Dentists have reported an increase in patients with tooth fractures since the pandemic began, which they attribute to teeth grinding, or bruxism. Thought to be exacerbated by stress, bruxism is often subconscious and frequently occurs during sleep. While night guards may prevent some dental wear, some studies suggest mouth guards can be ineffective or make the issue worse.

"There's tremendous overtreatment for a non-problem," said Karen Raphael, PhD, psychologist and professor at New York City-based New York University College of Dentistry, referring to the use of bite guards, tranquilizers and even Botox to prevent bruxism. "There is no evidence that tooth wear patterns reflect current grinding."

Tooth wear is more often tied to an acidic diet, which can erode enamel and trigger bruxism, Dr. Raphael said. Poor sleep habits and bad posture may also increase bruxism, among other things.

"Bruxism is not a disease," said Gilles Lavigne, DMD, PhD, a neuroscientist, dentist and professor at the University of Montreal in Canada. "It's just a behavior, and like any behavior, when it reaches a level that it's bothersome, you may need to consult someone."

Bite guards won't stop a person from grinding their teeth, but it may act as a bumper to protect teeth if carefully designed according to the size and shape of a person's mouth, said Tammy Chen, DDS, a prosthodontist in New York City.

"Bruxism often comes down to a breathing or airway issue," Dr. Chen told the NYT. "Night guards are a band aid, but if you want to stop grinding, you have to get to the root cause of the issue."

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