TMJ Mouth Guard
What should I look for when shopping for a TMJ mouth guard? First, 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.
“What is TMJ and do I have it?”
Technically speaking, everyone has TMJ because it’s a joint. You would have TMD and you would need a mouth guard to treat your TMJ. But if there’s pain or some kind of irregularity inside of your TMJ, you would have TMD/TMJD. In the majority of cases, a mouthguard is used to treat TMJ symptoms and causes. 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 for TMJ (Ahem, TMD).
Let’s begin with a lesson in ANATOMY!
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.
There are multiple reasons why TMJ disorders occur.
Causes of TMJ Disruption and Disorders
- Bruxism (teeth grinding, teeth clenching)
- Jaw size, 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.
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.
Bruxism (teeth clenching and grinding) can emit forces up to 6x more than normal chewing.
The term “TMJ syndrome” has only been around since 1934.
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. 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? Do I need a TMJ Mouth Guard?
A mouthguard could be the best treatment, depending on the cause and severity of your TMJ disorder.
Is TMJ pain caused by jaw clenching or teeth grinding? A mouth guard can position your muscles to relax better, providing relief from jaw pain, tooth pain, ear aches, and facial soreness.
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. Depending on the person, TMJ pain may only last a brief period and then disappear on its own.
TMD is a group of collective orofacial disorders. Symptoms may include:
- Pain in or around your TMJ
- Tooth pain
- Headaches or migraines
- Ear pain
- Clicking or popping sounds
- Sensitive teeth
- Limited range of motion
- Irregular tooth wear
- Broken dental work
- Sleep apnea
“What types of mouth guards are used to treat TMJ?”
A mouth guard is the most common solution prescribed for TMD.
The purpose of a TMJ splint or mouth guard is to protect your TMJ (including the discs inside of it), teeth and facial muscles from constant pressure, strain and secondary inflammation. The 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 (night 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 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.
TMJ fact: Women are more prone to TMJ disorder than men.
How does a mouth guard for TMJ help?
It prevents the teeth from making direct contact with each other and your muscles from fully contracting.
Mouthguards 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 mouthguard 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.
“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.
Are there Risks and Complications from Wearing a Dental Night Guard?
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 mouthguard. 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 move.
Sometimes custom made night 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, and wearing a mouthguard when you sleep.
Keep in mind that physical activities such as moving heavy furniture or weight lifting can aggravate TMJ problems 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.
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?
Wearing a mouthguard is a preventative measure as well as therapeutic. In most cases, you can prevent additional damage by wearing a night guard. In the majority of TMJ cases, it’s one of-if not the- best way to manage your symptoms.
Medically reviewed by:
Sharon Boyd, MA, BS, RDH has over 20 years of experience in the dental health industry. Her focus on preventative care techniques helps empower patients to reduce their need for extensive treatments and extend the lifetime of their natural teeth. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sharonboydrdh/Website: https://www.dentaspeak.com/Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Dentaspeak/