Confessions Of A Tooth Grinder

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Photo: Elena Scotti (GMG)

I grind my teeth at night. This is because I live in America, and every day living here tells my subconscious that it would be a wise idea for me to bite clean through my own jaw. I had no idea that I was doing this until years ago when my old dentist, a very nice man who would accidentally fart out loud while examining me, showed me that I had sanded down the tips of my canines to the point where they were honorary incisors now. If I kept grinding my teeth, I would not only make hideous noises at night, but eventually I would hit a raw nerve. And then, PAIN. All the pain. Why teeth even have nerves is beyond me. They should be made of dead shit, like hair.

Instead, teeth are made of nerves that are more sensitive than Nate Silver’s Twitter account and are ready to go off like plastique the second they come into contact with, like, air. I had to stop my teeth from consuming themselves. I had to get a night guard.


I was not alone in needing one. Millions of Americans suffer from bruxism, severe tooth-grinding brought on by factors such as stress (a condition that 2019 is designed to induce) and, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website, “sleep-related chewing activity associated with arousals during sleep.” As someone who is often both stressed AND horny, I was a prime candidate for grinding my teeth. Sometimes I’ll wake up with my jaw clenched, like I’m the late William F. Buckley regaling polo club guests at a cocktail party in Montauk. I also keep my teeth closed together when I’m awake, which you should NOT do. You’re supposed to let your jaw hang open a little, but not TOO much…


The only way to prevent extensive damage from all this clenching and grinding is with a night guard, or “hard appliance” in dental parlance … snicker snicker snicker. According to some people, such an appliance can even help prevent certain headaches. But these night guards are not cheap. Many insurance companies (that is to say, mine) don’t cover the cost of night guards. This is because dental plans are fucking pathetic, and also because preventing painful toothlessness is just a cosmetic medical concern, I guess. Is it satisfying to pony up hundreds of dollars or more for the grownup equivalent of a retainer? It is not. Night guards are exactly as glamorous and sexy as this Tina Fey movie would lead you to believe. And yet, I had no choice. I had to bite the bullet, if I only so I wouldn’t bite down on other things.

For a night guard to be most effective, you need to one that’s custom-made. This involves getting imprints at the dentist’s office. You gotta sit there in the chair while the dentist fills a mold with putty that’s almost definitely 100 percent arsenic, and then you bite softly into the putty so that it hardens in the exact shape of your teeth. When I had to get a new guard made this week, I got flecks of that putty in my beard stubble, and my new dentist (not a serial farter!) was like, “I should have told you to shave before you came in.” Too late! I now have a putty beard. Then he had me bite down on two cotton rolls and filled my mouth with a putty gun. I want a putty gun. I wanna stick it up Roth’s nose and pull the trigger.

After the fitting, you wait a week or two and PRESTO! You’ve got yourself a night guard to call you own, until you inevitably lose it. There’s a scene in Parenthood where Steve Martin’s asshole kid loses his retainer and so Martin and Mary Steenburgen have to go dumpster diving for it. That scene haunted me every time I dealt with my first night guard. Regardless, I still treated it like shit. You’re supposed to wash it regularly, either by soaking it in Polident (THE SEXAY) or by brushing it with a spare toothbrush. The first one I got bore a label on the case that advised owners to NEVER wash it in a dishwasher, which only piqued my interest in the notion.

And yet, I only cleaned my night guard … oh, let’s say monthly. Sometimes I would sniff it and recoil in horror. The thing smelled like a dead whale’s tongue. The case smelled even worse. Then I would pop the guard right into my piehole anyway and hop in bed. It is not easy to adjust to sleeping with a night guard in your mouth. For one thing, it’s a foreign object in your mouth. Also, some night guards reach to the way back of your teeth, which is not terribly comfortable. And I felt like a fucking baby with it. What’s next, headgear? The night guard also makes you look like a hobo and sound even more incoherent. Sometimes my wife would be unable to understand me at night, so I would take out the night guard, line of drool and all, to make myself clear before wedging it back into my maw.


Still, my first night guard served me well. It grew stinky and off-white with age, but it protected me from myself in the dark of night. After years of wearing it, I could see grooves in the plastic that my busy teeth had carved, geological evidence of my subconscious’s unbreakable habit. The grooves wore so deep, I wondered if I would eventually break the fucker.

I never got the chance to find out. Last year, I left the night guard in a hotel room on a business trip. But I didn’t know I had done so until I arrived home, opened my toiletry kit, and realized I had just cost myself hundreds. I bought a temp night guard at CVS to hold me over: one you boil in water and then fit to your teeth, like a football mouthguard. I chewed through it within weeks.


This would not do. Why, it’s almost as if there are various factors in my life that cause me to grind my teeth that I’ve failed to address! It would be just like me to choke to death in my sleep on chewed-off night guard bits. So I had to get another real deal night guard because my molars are just that strong and manly. When it comes to stopping bruxism’s onslaught, BIG APPLIANCE has me by the nutsack. I need a Warby Parker of night guards, that sells them for five bucks a pop. Until then, it’s an empty wallet and a putty beard for me. This may be your fate as well. If so, you have my utmost sympathies. It’s enough to make you grind your teeth at night.