Waking up with a pounding headache and overly sensitive teeth can be a disconcerting experience for anyone, but for people who grind their teeth while they sleep (a phenomenon referred to as nocturnal bruxism) it can become a daily source of stress and unpleasantness. As such, anyone who suffers (or thinks they suffer) from nocturnal bruxism should see their doctor as soon as possible, who will be able to arrange sleep studies to decisively diagnose the condition and provide medications and therapies specifically designed to suppress it.

However, frequent visits to the dentist are as just as important to the nocturnal bruxism sufferer as regular doctor's appointments—as you can imagine, the stress and strain caused by clenching and grinding your teeth during the night can do significant damage to the teeth and gums, and without proper management, this damage can lead to more painful and serious maladies. Working with your dentist is the best way to prevent serious damage from occurring, and your dentist will be able to offer you the following protective and preventative treatments:

Mouthguards and splints

Using mouthguards and dental splints is a simple, non-invasive and inexpensive way your dentist can help prevent nocturnal bruxism from dealing significant damage to your teeth. These devices can be made from a wide variety of materials, including soft, cushioned acrylic plastics that are particularly comfortable to wear and are designed to keep your teeth from coming together and grinding while you sleep.

Splints are smaller devices designed to 'prop' your jaw open, while mouthguards slot over your teeth to provide a physical barrier between the two rows of teeth. Choosing between the two is largely a matter of personal preference, but your dentist will be able to advise you on which option they think will suit you best.

Whichever option you choose, it is vital that you have your mouthguard or splint crafted and fitted by a dentist, rather than purchasing one off the shelf. Splints and mouthguards crafted by dentists and dental technicians are specifically shaped to fit the unique contours of your teeth and gums and to provide maximum protection and comfort. Splints and mouthguards bought off the shelf do not fit nearly as snugly and can subsequently cause damage to teeth and gums by rubbing against sensitive areas.

Dental reshaping

In some extreme cases of nocturnal bruxism, splints and mouthguards are not enough to prevent damage, and the sheer amount of pressure can damage your teeth and gums even through the most robust mouthguard. In these cases, your dentist may recommend reshaping your teeth; this involves shaving away enamel from certain teeth, particularly protruding teeth that are most vulnerable to bruxism damage  

This is a more invasive and costly procedure, and depending on how extensive the reshaping process is, there may be some post-treatment pain and swelling involved. However, dental reshaping is very effective at protecting your teeth from further wear and damage and can often save previously damaged teeth that would be irrevocably damaged by further grinding.