This article has been checked and updated for accuracy on 5/9/2023
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) is a condition that affects the joint that connects the jawbone to the skull. It can cause pain, discomfort, and difficulty chewing, speaking or yawning. 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. One of the most common treatments for TMJ is the use of a mouth guard. In this article, we will explore the best mouth guard options for individuals suffering from TMJ disorder.
What is a Mouth Guard?
A mouth guard is a dental device that can help protect your teeth and gums from damage caused by grinding, clenching, or other forms of pressure on your teeth. These guards are usually made of either silicone or plastic, and can be either hard or flexible. They’re designed to fit right over your teeth, like a glove, and can be customized by a dentist, online lab or even purchased over-the-counter at a drugstore. So if you’re worried about protecting your pearly whites, a mouth guard is the way to go!
Types of Mouth Guards
There are several different mouth guards available on the market, each with their own unique benefits and features. The most common types of mouth guards are:
- Stock Mouth Guards: These are pre-made mouth guards that can be purchased at a drugstore. They are usually made of lower quality plastic and come in a one-size-fits-all design. While they are affordable and readily available, they lack a proper fit and are not suitable to help with TMJ issues.
- Boil-and-Bite Mouth Guards: These mouth guards are available at drugstores and can be molded to fit the individual’s teeth by boiling them in hot water and then biting down on them. They provide a better fit than stock mouth guards and are more comfortable to wear. Still, these types are not suitable to help with TMJ issues.
- Custom-Made Mouth Guards: These mouth guards are made from a dental impression of the individual’s teeth and creates a true custom-fitted mouth guard. These types provide the best fit and are the most comfortable to wear. These mouth guards are more expensive than OTC and boil and bite guards and are made with higher quality materials.
Best Mouth Guards for TMJ Disorder
If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort in your TMJ (that’s your temporomandibular joint, for those who don’t know), a TMJ mouth guard could be just what the dentist ordered! These specially designed guards are made to protect not only your TMJ but also your teeth and jaw muscles from excessive pressure and strain, which can lead to inflammation and pain. The best kind of TMJ mouth guard is custom-fitted to your mouth and can even help relieve pain and improve muscle function by correcting an imbalanced occlusion (that’s your biting pattern, in layman’s terms). Say goodbye to TMJ pain with a custom TMJ mouth guard today!
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 TMJD or 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).
A custom-made night guard for TMJ created by a specialist in 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 that can make the TMJ night guard.
What to expect when you visit a doctor about your TMJ
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?
Yes! A custom night guard can help lessen or stop the pain in your temperomandibular joint.
An ultra thin day guard is suggested if your TMJ issue is being exacerbated by daytime grinding or clenching.
Please note: 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.
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.
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 (the 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!
TMJ issues can go away with time.
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’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?
Sometimes, 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 protect the teeth at night with a custom 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.
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 and can become painful.
Sometimes custom made 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.
Consider wearing a thin mouth guard while lifting weights and working out to protect your teeth while clenching.
Surgical therapies for TMJD
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 mouth guard is a preventative measure as well as therapeutic. In most cases, you can prevent additional damage by wearing mouth guards.
Join an online support community.
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.
TMJ can be a painful and debilitating condition, but using a mouth guard can help alleviate symptoms and prevent further damage to the joint. Custom-fitted mouth guards are the best option for people with TMJ because they provide the most support and protection. When selecting a mouth guard, it is important to consider the material, thickness, design, and fit to ensure maximum comfort and effectiveness. If you are experiencing TMJ symptoms, consult with a dentist or orthodontist to determine the best mouth guard for your needs.
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