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Should you get the Cadillac of Bruxism Appliances or Fall for the Yugo Approach to Protect Your Teeth?

Posted by Amy McGlaughlin RDH, PHDHP on

Around mid-summer, I caught an informative piece aired on television by a popular medical talk show. The focus of the segment was about night guards. The discussion surrounded the potential harm one may suffer when using a cheap store-bought night guard. I remember being impressed by the guest expert’s insights on this matter. I also recall suspecting the network hadn’t given the dentist enough airtime to cove rthe plethora of choices available to consumers. Was he cut short or is he human, in the same boat as all professionals, simply not having enough time to research every new product out there? Either way, I made a mental note to jot down and share my thoughts about the episode. I am finally getting back to this just a short two months later!

You see, I’ve been in the dental field for over 25 years. I may not hold a doctorate, but I do have the pleasure of patients and friends confiding in me, sharing their unfiltered thoughts on dentistry. Intimate dental concerns are often revealed in the time we spend chatting during their dental hygiene visits and even while waiting for our kids at school pick-up. I’m surprised by the frankness of acquaintances, regarding their dental health, once they learn I am a dental hygienist. Their trust is an honor, but also an ongoing burden. If I had a dime for every time someone confessed they just can’t afford the treatment plan their dental team recommended! These testimonials really pull at my heartstrings!I’m in a unique position where I work from home a lot more now. I have revamped priorities and spend more time focusing on family, exploring different areas of my profession, volunteerism, and learning about various products. I try very hard to make time to seek what friends, family, and patients are really asking for coupled with what they need to address their circumstances. I am fortunate to have this luxury. When I worked full-time in dental offices, I rarely had a moment to read research articles, learn about new products, or attend continuing education courses.

I repeatedly hear frustration from people regarding night time grinding (bruxism). So many individuals express they are not satisfied with their current dentist-made night guard. Often people share that they just flat out can’t afford a custom night guard. Some will grab the first inexpensive boil-and-bite guard they find at their nearest retailer. Due to cost, rather than asking about alternatives, too many patients elect to forego a guard made by their dentist completely.These individuals, who resign to doing nothing, will surely experience real damage over time. Others will attempt to be proactive, and seek a more affordable approach by going online or to the local pharmacy to buy the thick guard looking quite similar to the average athletic mouthpiece. As the TV show stressed, this can lead to more serious dental and musculoskeletal consequences down the road.

Just as the dentist on the medical show explained, I also must emphasize the need to consult dentists and medical doctors first. Seek out a professional who specializes in these conditions. It’s important to be very certain you are not dealing with any underlying causes, such as TMJ, bite problems, or sleep apnea. For the population that has been evaluated and not diagnosed with a treatable cause for clenching and/or grinding, they will still need to offer their teeth protection. In the TV interview, the expert mentioned how many over the counter night guards will alter the bite too much, likely leading to new issues or worsening of symptoms. The custom made appliance from a dentist may not be within financial reach for many patients; though they are likely the Cadillac of options. So, should these folks go to the drug store and grab the least expensive boil and bite on the shelf? Please don’t. Ever hear of the Yugo? It was a “no go”! (What’s a Yugo? Think opposite of Cadillac.)

So is there a middle-of-the road alternative for those cases that don’t require ENT specialist, surgery, orthodontics, a custom sleep appliance or CPAP intervention? Yes, there are solutions available. A dentist can make a slightly more affordable appliance that will protect the teeth and offer a custom fit superior to a store bought boil and bite guard. As the TV segment that aired in July of 2018 mentioned, these may cost around $200. Rarely are these covered by insurances. Maybe I live in a geographically frugal location (Is there such a thing? If not, I just made it a thing!), but spending $200-$600+, out of pocket, is out of reach for so many financially. Hopefully you have a dentist who will support your quest to find an effective, affordable option. Be diligent in researching what is available to suit your case. I have heard great success stories when people do find a guard that can protect the teeth, offer a custom fit, add minimal thickness (don’t want to alter bite or opening significantly), and that are made from high quality, research-backed material. You get one set of jaws and teeth. A little extra time and effort to research all viable possibilities will be well worth it!

- Amy McGlaughlin RDH, PHDHP

Click here if you’d like to watch the video clip from July 2018, when the segment originally aired on TV. Many great points made. My hope is you will have a bit more knowledge, as you proceed to work with knowledgeable dental and medical professionals, and may then move forward doing your own research as well.The goal is for you to achieve better sleep health and better dental health without feeling forced into a Cadillac or the Yugo!