I Tried A Night Guard To Help My TMJ — Here’s How It Went

Photo: Courtesy of Karina Hoshikawa
I'll let you in on a little secret: There's one thing I bring with me to bed every night, and it's brought me immense pleasure. No, it's not an amazing vibrator — it's my new night guard. And it has completely rocked my world.
For years, I've experienced moderate to severe TMJ (aka temporomandibular joint) pain, where my jaw "locks" as I try to open and close my mouth. Most of the time, I experience a dull, aching pain (mostly on the left side of my jaw, but TMJ pain can be felt on both sides) that feels like ouch city from my ears to my temples. Many a dentist has told me that in addition to relaxing my jaw (essentially letting the bottom half of my face go slack), my TMJ could be aided by wearing a night guard.
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I've never worn braces nor a retainer, so the idea of a night guard sounded uncomfortable. (It's not.) However, after trying Smile Brilliant's teeth whitening system, I saw that the brand also made custom-fit night guards. At $159 for two, it was much more inexpensive than getting them ordered through my dentist's office, and I liked that I could do the entire process from home.
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Photo: Courtesy of Karina Hoshikawa
Once I placed my Smile Brilliant order, the process for making the night guard impressions was exactly the same as making the impressions for my teeth whitening trays, except you only have to make molds for the top row of your chompers. Prior to trying night guards, I'd tried facial massage, gua sha, and facial cupping (courtesy of Sandra Chiu at Lanshin) in an effort to alleviate my tight jaw. While all of these modalities felt nice and temporarily helped, nothing seemed to deliver long-term relief. I hoped that with consistent use, night guards would help.
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After my night guards arrived, I was excited to try them on and start getting used to them. While they were thicker than the whitening trays (which are basically invisible on), they were pretty comfortable to wear since they were custom-fit to my teeth. "A night guard is one of the most important dental appliances that can be worn to prevent wear on teeth and to limit TMJ flare-ups," founder of TruGlo Modern Dental Rhonda Kalasho, DDS, tells Refinery29.
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Here's how a night guard works: "There is a small joint in between your upper skull and lower jaw called the TMJ joint, and this joint can be flattened over time due to the wear on the teeth," explains Dr. Kalasho. "The joint can even dislocate, causing a popping sound. Many times, the TMJ joint does not always cause pain even if worn down; however, it can if it becomes inflamed. Using a guard alleviates the pressure on the TMJ." In other words, a properly fitted guard basically acts as a chill pill for seriously stressed jaws. In addition to alleviating TMJ pain, night guards also prevent teeth grinding, which can lead to visibly worn-down pearly whites.
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The first time I wore my night guard, I woke up with it on my bedside table, having removed it during my sleep. (Oops.) However, I eventually got used to making it a part of my bedtime routine; it looked and felt like one of those clear plastic retainers, and after a few weeks of consistent use, I realized one day that the lower half of my jaw felt...fine! If I lightly massaged the sides of my jawline on either side of my face, I could still notice some tension — but much less than pre-night guard.
Time will tell how long each of my guards will hold up, but replacing them isn't wildly expensive; an individual guard costs $129, two are $159, and a value-pack of four is $179. (My Smile Brilliant order also came with a pack of cleaning tablets, which you can also find on Amazon for relatively cheap.) Now that I've been using a night guard, I can't help but wish I'd done so sooner; whereas before, I'd get tension headaches that seemed to emanate from my tight masseter muscles, now I'm like, TTYL, TMJ.
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