TMJ issues can start at any time in a person’s life and if left untreated, can become worse as time passes. If you’re experiencing pain, popping or clicking in your jaw when you open and close your mouth, you may have a bothersome TMJ.
What is TMJ?
TMJ stands for Temporomandibular Joint.
It’s the joint that connects your jaw bone to your skull and acts as a sliding hinge so that you can chew, sing, yell at your neighbors, etc.
Technically speaking, everyone has TMJ because it’s a joint. What you might be experiencing is TMD. But you didn’t come here for a lesson in medical terminology. You’re having jaw pain and you’re looking for the best mouth guard to help with your TMJ (Ahem, TMD).
Customized TMJ Treatment
TMJ disorders can develop for several reasons. A proper diagnosis is imperative.
For instance, if your TMJ issues are occuring because of bite misalignment, you will need to see a TMJ specialist.
Your dentist can either fabricate a TMJ night guard that is different than a standard night guard for you or send you to a TMJ specialist and they can make the TMJ night guard.
What To Avoid
You should avoid the temptation to buy “one size fits all” stock night guards. These mass produced types are not properly fitted and can sometimes make your jaw pain even worse.
There is no “best” over the counter night guard for TMJ.
Experiencing TMJ symptoms night after night is no fun at all. But we have good news for you! You can get a custom made night guard online for a fraction of the dental office price.
First, let’s learn a bit more about TMJ. It’s important to note the umbrella term that is used to cover all problems relating to TMJ is actually referred to as TMD, TMJD, TMJ disorder or Temperomandibular Joint Disorder.
TMJ stands for Temporomandibular Joint.
But you didn’t come here for a lesson in medical terminology. You’re having jaw pain and you’re looking for the best mouth guard to help with your TMJ (Ahem, TMD).
At a doctors appointment your ENT may have you open and close your jaw and begin feeling the jaw when opened wide and then closed. Depending on their findings, the ENT may put you on muscle relaxers (sometimes a 16 day steroid pack) no gum, and a soft food diet.
A dentist will feel around the jaw as well and may have a similar plan. They may even suggest Botox around the masseter joint though the effectiveness of this action is controversial.
The TMJ could be causing inflammation and can even sometimes be responsible for pulsatile tinnitus. A mouth guard can help greatly but sometimes a “bite guard” is needed. This type of guard is more complex and cannot be ordered online. The bite guard actually moves your teeth into a certain position (see above images). This places your jaw in its intended alignment and will relieve your TMJD.
Can mouth guards help with TMJ?
Sometimes an ultra thin day guard is suggested if your TMJ issue is being exacerbated by daytime grinding or clenching.
In short, if your TMJD is caused by jaw misalignment, you will need to schedule a visit with your dentist. If your TMJD is caused by grinding or clenching, a mouth guard can help.
TMJ is a crucial joint when it comes to everyday function. It allows you to eat, talk, sing and yell at the kids! Every time we open or close our mouth, we’re using this joint.
According to the National Institute of Health, around 10 million Americans have some sort of TMJ problem. With all the stress that 2020 has brought, that number is INCREASING!
There are multiple reasons why TMJ disorders occur
Causes of TMJ Disruption and Disorders
- Bruxism (teeth grinding, teeth clenching)
- Jaw muscles size(s), shape and posture
- Irregular tooth alignment (crooked or crowded teeth)
- Stress and anxiety
- Abnormalities of the intra-articular disk inside of your jaw joint
- Arthritis and bone disease
A dentist can diagnose your TMJ disorder during an exam. They’ll listen to and feel your jaw as you open and close, pinpointing irregular movements and listen for pops or clicks inside of your joint.
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You might be wondering:
What are some signs and symptoms of TMJD?
Signs and Symptoms of TMJD
Clicking in your jaw is a common sign of TMJ disorder, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have TMD. Most of the time, if clicks and pops are painless, they’re not a significant problem.
Your dentist will need to examine your mouth and feel certain areas to determine if your TMJ is functioning properly.
If needed, an X-ray or CT scan can be ordered to provide more detailed images of the joint and surrounding structures. Rarely are MRIs needed, but they can be useful if there are significant disk problems or abnormalities.
Fortunately, the path to TMJ relief may be closer than you think!
How long does it take for a mouth guard to work for TMJ?
A mouth guard could be the best treatment, depending on the cause and severity of your TMJ disorder.
It may take as little as one night wearing your new mouth guard to relieve your jaw pain.
A properly fitted, custom mouth guard can provide instant relief. A mouth guard for TMJ can position your muscles to relax better, providing relief from jaw pain, tooth pain, ear aches, and facial soreness.
Is TMJ pain caused by clenching of the jaw muscles or teeth grinding?
It could be caused by one or both actions. Or it could be stemmed from an entirely separate reason.
For cases of TMJ disorder prompted by uneven or missing teeth (where your bite is “off”) another type of procedure may be needed to relieve your symptoms. Depending on the complexity, more aggressive TMJ issues that require more extensive therapies or surgery may take months before you get relief.
Some good news!
Some TMJ issues can go away with time. Want to know the best part?
Depending on the person, TMJ pain in the teeth and jaw muscles may only last a brief period and then disappear on its own.
What types of mouth guards are used to treat TMJ?
A mouth guard is the most common solution prescribed for TMD.
There are several types of mouth guards.
The purpose of a TMJ mouth guard is to protect your TMJ (including the discs inside of it), teeth and jaw muscles from constant pressure, strain and secondary inflammation. The best TMJ mouth guard can provide eased muscle function, relieving the associated pain caused by excessive clenching or an imbalanced occlusion (biting pattern).
What’s the difference between the different types of TMJ splints (mouth guards) available?
Occluding and Non-occluding splints
An occluding splint focuses on the alignment of both upper and lower teeth. This type of splint needs to be purchased through the dental office as your occlusion (biting relationship between your upper and lower teeth) is carefully guided through a series of adjustments.
Non–occluding splints are your average type of bite splint and are non-complex appliances. You can purchase non-occluding splints online at a fraction of the dental office cost. In many cases, a non-occluding splint will provide the relief you need and prevent TMJD (temporomandibular joint disorder) from getting worse. Do not continue wearing a night guard appliance or splint if your symptoms worsen or do not improve. A reputable online night guard lab should have a return policy so that you can return the appliance so that you can process a refund on the appliance if it is not working properly.
Most dentists and experts agree that a conservative approach to treating TMJ pain (avoiding surgery and using a splint first) is the best option.
How do mouth guards for TMJ help?
The mouth guard prevents the teeth from making direct contact with each other and your muscles from fully contracting.
Mouth guards are useful for muscle pain relief when it comes to the ones responsible for chewing and clenching. The disruption in contact and muscle contraction “forces” your jaw and teeth into a relaxed position. As a result, the condyles (extensions off your mandible, near the TMJ) can rest in a centric position.
- Relaxes muscles
- Reduces TMJ constrictions
- Eases pain and discomfort
- Helps with limited range of motion (in some cases)
A TMJ mouth guard is typically fabricated out of hard acrylic or acrylic-like material, so that it can withstand everyday wear and tear for long periods of time. If you’re wondering how long it takes for a mouth guard for TMJ to work, you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that most often the symptoms start to decrease in as little as one nights’ use.
What happens if I don’t wear a TMJ mouth guard?
Problems relating to TMD tend to compound and get worse, rather than resolve on their own. If the TMJD is caused by teeth grinding or clenching, the constant wear and tear can make you vulnerable to gum recession, enamel wear and broken dental work.
Teeth grinders that are experiencing pain upon waking should be protecting the teeth at night with a custom fitted night guard.
Are there Risks and Complications from Wearing Mouth Guards?
It’s crucial to make sure your night guard fits properly. Most dentists discourage the use of store bought “one size fits all” night guard types. However, certain designs do work well for the typical TMJ patient.
That being said, there are a few things you need to be aware of before buying a mouth guard. An improperly-fitted night guard can cause changes in your bite that can result in additional jaw pain. A night guard that is too tight can cause pressure on specific teeth, causing them to become painful.
Sometimes custom fitted mouth guards have rough edges that can protrude and irritate the gums/tongue/cheek. These can be smoothed down during an adjustment by a technician.
How can I stop my TMJ?
There is no “single cure” for TMJ disorder. Even surgery is not guaranteed to solve the problem and should be used as a last resort.
Help Yourself First!
Typically, TMJ pain treatment starts at home. It could include taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication (like Ibuprofen), eating a softer diet, avoiding chewing gum, practicing relaxation exercises, reducing stress, massage, applying a hot or cold compress to the jaw muscles, and wearing a mouth guard when you sleep.
Keep in mind that physical activities such as moving heavy furniture or weight lifting can aggravate TMJ problems and increase jaw pain due to clenching your muscles while you work or exercise. Be aware of your actions. Are you clenching or grinding your teeth during the day? Make a point to relax your jaw whenever you think about it.
Surgical Therapies for Temporomandibular Joint
Non-surgical treatment should always be considered first.
Arthroscopy means “to look within the joint”. A small incision is made so that a surgeon can look directly at the cartilage and bone and potentially correct minor issues on the spot, including removing any inflamed tissue. You can go home the same day.
Open Joint Surgery is more complex. The surgery can last up to several hours, depending on complexity. This type of procedure can be used to re-position a slipped cartilage, repair tissue or replace a joint entirely.
Studies and Trials
Temporomandibular implant devices. This surgery is strongly urged as a last resort ONLY. Studies have shown some success but overall have not reduced the pain associated with TMD.
Don’t want surgery?
We get it.
Wearing a mouth guard is a preventative measure as well as therapeutic. In most cases, you can prevent additional damage by wearing mouth guards. In the majority of TMJ cases, it’s one of-if not the- best way to manage your symptoms.
Because so many people live with TMJ disorder, there are several online community support groups for TMD where people discuss what has worked (or hasn’t) in managing this difficult, uncomfortable diagnosis.
Do you choose an upper or lower mouth guard for TMJ?
This decision to wear a mouth guard on your upper or lower teeth for TMJ most often comes down to preference. However, your dentist may advise one teeth arch over the other for a variety of reasons. If you’re not sure which teeth arch to choose, consult with a dentist. The upper teeth guard is still the most common type made.
Remember! Avoid over the counter mouth guards. These types are not designed to help with TMJ and may even make your symptoms worse.
Over the counter mouth guards such as the Oral B Night Guard or Dentek have proven to be unsuccessful in alleviating TMJ issues and symptoms. A properly fitted mouth guard will provide the jaw support you need.
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