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Why It’s A Bad Idea To Use Whitening Trays For Bruxism

Author: Donald Tanenbaum DDS MPH - Board-Certified Orofacial Pain Specialist at New York TMJ & Orofacial Pain

Date: January 26, 2016

I recently came across an online press release with this compelling title:
Teeth Whitening Trays From ProDental Functions As A Night Guard Against Teeth Grinding.

The press release goes on to state:
These teeth whitening trays help to stop the condition of teeth grinding which happens drastically at night when persons sleep.”

In my 30+ years as an orofacial pain specialist, I’ve treated thousands of people who suffer from the effects of teeth grinding and I will tell you right now: it is a very bad idea to use whitening trays for bruxism.

Teeth grinding and clenching (clinically known as sleep bruxism) are caused by brain arousal during sleep. What causes the brain to become aroused? There is no easy answer. It could be any number of things: daily stress, a crying baby, chronic pain, breathing problems, too much light, a snoring bed partner…and the list goes on.

Medical practitioners face a big challenge when attempting to identify the exact cause of nighttime brain arousal. In my practice, the goal is to reduce, or even stop, nightly grinding. But that can happen only once the exact cause has been identified. This takes time and determination.

In the interim, most of my patients wear custom-fitted bruxism devices (also called oral appliances) at night. These bruxism devices protect teeth from the destructive impact of constant grinding and clenching. They diminish the loading forces placed on the jaw joints and diminish the contracture force of the jaw muscles.

However, bruxism appliances must be custom-fitted to do their job!

If you’re considering the use of whitening trays to treat your teeth grinding, as the above press release suggests, please beware. You may actually make your condition worse. Here’s why:

3 Reasons Why It’s A Bad Idea To Use Whitening Trays For Bruxism

1. Whitening Trays Are Too Loose

Whitening trays will rarely fit your teeth perfectly. In fact, they are designed to fit somewhat loose and because of that fact, they flop around in your mouth. You must clench your teeth to keep them in place. And the last thing you need is more teeth clenching.

2. Whitening Trays Are Too Short

Whitening trays that are designed for mass utilization will never extend all the way back to your rear teeth. As a result, when you clench or grind your teeth with one of these trays in place, all the force is shifted forward. Though it sounds like a good idea to prevent the back teeth from being engaged when clenching and grinding, this pattern of contact actually puts more pressure on your TM joints. Over time this can cause additional jaw stiffness, pain and even joint clicking and locking (which may not have been present before starting to wear the trays). And not only that; trays which do not cover rear teeth may cause your bite to change over time, adding another difficult problem to fix.

3. Whitening Trays Are Too Soft

Whitening trays are made of a soft, pliable material which encourages more grinding and clenching. Patients call them “chew toys” when describing how they feel. In addition, because these soft trays don’t hold your teeth in place they can cause spaces to develop in between your back teeth. If this happens to you, you’ll forever be fishing food out from between your teeth with your tongue, further aggravating your jaw.

The Takeaway:

If you wake up in the morning with jaw pain, muscle stiffness, jaw clicking or locking, or sore teeth, you likely have sleep bruxism. You may be tempted to try the teeth whitening tray solution. After all, it seems to be adequate and inexpensive. But that decision will most likely lead to more problems with your teeth and jaw.

Please, take my advice: don’t be the victim of a phony pitch that can come back to bite you with a hefty dental bill later. Seek help from an experienced practitioner.

To find a dentist in your area that concentrates on sleep bruxism problems, visit The American Academy of Orofacial Pain at http://www.aaop.org/.

Live or work in New York City or on Long Island? You can schedule a consultation with me here or call 212-265-0110

DISCLAIMER: The advice offered in response to your questions is intended to be informational only and generic in nature. Namely, we in no way offer a definitive diagnosis or specific treatment recommendation for your particular situation. Our intent is solely educational and our responses to your actual questions serve as a springboard to discussion of a variety of dental topics that come up in a day-to-day dental practice. Any advice offered is no substitute for proper evaluation and care by a qualified professional.

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