What Is A TMJ Splint?
A TMJ splint is a specific type of mouth splint designed to minimize pressure on your jaw joints and teeth. As a TMJ appliance, it trains your jaw muscles to relax, lessening the tension on your joint’s internal and surrounding tissues. It looks similar to a sports mouthguard or like a thick orthodontic retainer, depending on the type you have made. Some are relatively small, only covering a few of your front teeth rather than an entire arch.
Types of TMJ Splints
There are a variety of different types of TMJ splints available on the market.
Nightguards are the most common. These devices are made for overnight wear, which tends to be when jaw tension is severe and uncontrollable (because you’re sleeping). It’s crafted from a thick layer of acrylic and moulded to your unique bite.
Occlusal guards are similar to nightguards but worn during the daytime hours. They are often transparent or made of clear acrylic, covering the biting surfaces of all or most of your upper teeth, preventing full tooth-on-tooth engagement.
Minimalist splint designs (such as NTI) only cover a few of the front teeth, rather than your entire mouth. The smaller design is preferable to some people but can make it difficult to sleep with or keep up with throughout the day.
However, there is one thing all of these splints have in common: they’re moulded to your teeth by a dental provider. As such, they provide the best protection and comfort during TMD treatment (unlike bulky over the counter types of mouthguards).
What Is Splint Therapy For TMJ?
Splint therapy is the first line of treatment against TMD or TMJ pain. The great news is that non-surgical therapies such as bite splints are among the first suggestions for managing TMJ disorder. Other recommendations include a softer diet, warm compresses, and over-the-counter medication. Only when symptoms become severe do more aggressive types of therapies become necessary.
Electing to invest in a bite splint helps treat TMD at its source: your mouth and jaws. Although tooth enamel is exceptionally dense and durable, tooth-on-tooth wear can cause irreversible damage to your teeth and existing dental restorations. A splint can save your smile!
Do TMJ Splits Work?
Absolutely. The way splints work is by slightly repositioning your teeth and creating space between them. When at rest, your lips should be touching, but your teeth shouldn’t. Unfortunately, a lot of us clench our teeth tightly together. A splint acts as a buffer and thereby moves your TMJ into a natural resting position. When that happens, the joint isn’t fully engaging and is “forced” to relax. Consequently, the muscles around your face, neck, and shoulders — as well as biting tension — is eased.
There are some cases where TMJ splints may not be effective, however. For instance, severe tooth and jaw misalignment force atypical joint movements just to bite or chew your food. When that’s the case, your TMJ is continually having to overcompensate and move atypically during each meal. Such instances usually won’t respond to bite splints alone. Instead, orthodontic therapy may become an integral part of your TMD treatment.
How Long Do You Wear A TMJ Splint?
Most TMJ splints are worn at night, particularly if you’re prone to bruxism (clenching and grinding) while you’re sleeping. You might notice pain or TMD symptoms more in the morning when you wake up, and if that’s the case, you’ll need a nightguard. Daytime bite splints are worn as needed to prevent flare-ups, which usually happen during times of intense concentration or stress (like during your daily commute or before/after an important meeting).
Since bite splints are a preventative appliance, you’ll want to wear yours daily. However, some people tend to wear theirs for several weeks and then stop wearing them once symptoms are gone. But if you experience occasional flare-ups, it’s best to wear them routinely.
Although night guards aren’t invincible, it’s better for them to wear out than your teeth. The acrylic layer will start to show significant wear if you’re someone who clenches your teeth at excessive levels. That’s exactly how you’ll know it’s working! Depending on your circumstances, you may need to have a new splint made every few years (or even less frequently, if it is holding up well).
How Much Does A Splint for TMJ Cost?
The cost of getting a TMJ splint is extremely modest compared to the time and treatment required for surgery, pain management, and irreversible dental damage. As an affordable layer of “insurance,” it minimizes the risks of unnecessary treatment later on down the road. Some mouth splints are covered by your health benefits, which we can check on before or during your appointment.
Getting Fitted for a Dental Splint
Only a dental provider can make a professional mouth splint or TMJ appliance. Over the counter bite splints are “one size fits most” and can be ineffective or may make TMD symptoms worse.
Dr. Charles Cohen offers custom mouth splints and TMJ appliance therapy when necessary. Our custom impression process will ensure a secure, comfortable fit so that you get the most out of your dental splint. If you’re experiencing symptoms of TMD, contact us today to request a consultation.