There are a lot of bad habits that can damage your teeth, from thumbsucking to ice chewing. Teeth grinding is on this list. It’s a habit many people don’t even know they have because they grind their teeth mainly in their sleep. They wake up with jaw pain, headaches, and neck aches, indicators of teeth grinding. Orthodontic patients have asked us whether using their retainers will put an end to their bruxism or teeth grinding. At Larson Orthodontics, we’ve seen patients with bruxism before, and we can offer ways to help eliminate your teeth grinding.

What Is Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)?

If your teeth look smaller or more worn, there is a chance it’s because you’re grinding your teeth. Over time, the pressure from grinding wears down your teeth’s surface or enamel. The enamel can crack, chip, or simply wear away. As the enamel wears down, the shape of your teeth will change. They may become flat on top. You may also start to see a line or spot of yellow on the top of your tooth. This may be the pulp — the inner living tissue of the tooth — being exposed. Pulp exposure can cause pain and can lead to infection if it isn’t treated right away. 

For many patients, bruxism happens when they sleep, so they may not know it’s even happening. It can also happen when awake while stressed or concentrating. Again, you may not realize you’re doing it until you notice the pain in your jaw, head, neck, or teeth.

Can Orthodontic Retainers Help With Teeth Grinding?

How do you stop bruxism? It seems difficult to do, especially if you do it in your sleep and don’t even realize it. Many patients use a special mouthguard that they wear overnight. The mouth guard holds teeth in their proper positions and provides a cushion between the jaws to distribute pressure from teeth grinding more evenly, protecting the teeth. The mouthguard also trains the jaws to stay further apart, eventually training you not to grind your teeth. 

What about retainers? They fit in your mouth similar to a mouthguard, so they must work just as well, correct? No, they don’t. In fact, you could damage your retainers by grinding your teeth. Hawley retainers, the most common kind, are molded to the roof of your mouth, and wires wind around the front teeth to hold them in place after braces. Bands on the back of the retainers slip over the molars to hold the retainers in place. They lack the material to go in between your teeth to keep you from grinding your teeth together. 

Essix or clear retainers look similar to Invisalign clear aligners. They fit over the entire surface of the tooth. However, they are not made to withstand the pressure of tooth grinding. As a result, the retainers could be damaged significantly if used to try to stop bruxism.

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Can I Wear a Mouthguard Over a Retainer at Night?

Some patients think they can combine their mouthguards with their retainers, but this isn’t a good idea. Anything put over the retainer can damage it. That goes for both the Hawley and the Essix retainers. 

One option is to alternate nights when to wear your mouthguard and when to wear your retainer. We’ll determine how serious your bruxism is and whether an alternating schedule is necessary. Usually, though, we prefer you wear your retainers at least 22 hours a day right after your braces are removed. 

There are other alternatives, including using products such as a TMJ splint. This holds your mouth open from the outside to keep you from grinding your teeth. This would allow you to train your jaws not to grind together a night while allowing you to wear retainers.

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Treating Bruxism at an Orthodontist Alexandria, VA

There may be other solutions that would be best for you. The best solution is to schedule an examination to see what might be causing your bruxism, how damaged your teeth are, and what solutions may work best for you. As one of our braces or clear aligners patients, we start by first addressing the problems of damaging or moving your teeth. 

We prefer to address problems with teeth grinding before you get to the point of wearing retainers. However, teeth grinding can begin after braces are removed just as easily, possibly due to stress or other issues. We want you to know we’re here for you if you need help. Schedule an appointment at our Alexandria, VA, office to see what might work for you! 

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