TMJ Mouth Guard
What should I look for when shopping for a TMJ mouth guard? First, it is important to note the umbrella term that is used to cover all problems relating to TMJ is actually called TMD – or Temporomandibular Disorders. TMJ stands for Temporomandibular Joint.
“What is TMJ and do I have it?”
Technically, you would not have TMJ. You would have TMD and you would need a mouth guard to treat your TMJ. But you didn’t come here for a lesson in medical terminology. You’re having jaw pain and you are looking for the best mouth guard for TMJ (Ahem, TMD).
Let’s begin with a lesson in ANATOMY!
TMJ is an important joint. It allows you to eat, talk, sing and yell at your kids! Every time we open or close our mouth, or go side to side, we are using this joint. It is estimated that 6 percent of women and 3 percent of men have TMJ problems.
There are multiple reasons why TMJ disorders can occur.
Causes of TMJ Disruption and Disorders
- teeth grinding, teeth clenching,
- jaw posturing, abnormal occlusion (poor teeth alignment), misaligned bite
- stress, anxiety
- abnormalities of the intra-articular disk
- People who have experienced bone or cartilage loss (arthritis) can often become susceptible to TMJD (temporomandibular joint disorder)
A dentist can properly diagnose you by listening and feeling your jaw for clicking and popping.
Signs and Symptoms of TMJD
Clicking in the jaw is extremely common. Most of the time, if it is painless, it’s not a problem. An examination typically involves having you open and close your mouth. The dentist will observe the range of motion in your jaw. They will also feel areas of your jaw by pressing on certain points. A CT scan may also show that you have TMJD by providing detailed images of the bones and joints. An MRI can show disk problems or abnormalities.
During a bruxing session, the teeth can emit forces up to 6x more than normal chewing.
The term “TMJ syndrome” has only been around since 1934.
There is a lot that is unknown about this disorder. There are some great community support groups for TMD online that have real people discussing their real stories and sharing their journey through what can be a very difficult disorder. If you have TMD, think about joining the group and start reading others’ stories. The path to a resolution 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?
The answer to this depends on the cause of your TMJ.
If your TMJ is being caused by jaw clenching or teeth grinding, a mouth guard may provide immediate relief from jaw and/or teeth pain and facial soreness.
If your TMJ is being prompted by uneven teeth (chewing) surfaces or missing teeth that is causing your bite to be “off” a simple dental procedure may relieve the TMJ.
However, TMJ issues can be more complex and may require more extensive work (even sometimes surgery of the jaw) that involves weeks, sometimes months, before relief is felt.
Some good news!
TMJ issues have been known to go away with time. Some people experience TMJ issues for a brief time in their life and the symptoms simply disappear with time.
TMD is a group of orofacial disorders. Symptoms may include:
- pain in the TMJ
- tooth pain, headaches
- clicking or popping sounds during motion
- sensitive teeth
- possible limitations in range of motion
- possible dysfunction including jaw misalignment
“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 the TMJ discs from dysfunctional forces that may lead to inflammation or permanent damage. A TMJ mouth guard can also improve jaw-muscle function and relieve associated pain by creating a stable balanced occlusion.
The difference between types of TMJ splints (night guards):
Occluding and non-occluding splints
An occluding splint focuses on the alignment of both the upper and lower teeth. This type of splint needs to be purchased through the dental office as the occlusion is carefully guided through a series of adjustments.
Non–occluding splints are non-complex appliances. These are sometimes called simple splints.
You can purchase non-occluding splints online at a fraction of the dental office cost. In many cases, a non-occluding splint will work to provide the relief you need and prevent TMJD from worsening. Do not continue to wear a night guard appliance/splint if symptoms get worse or do not improve. A reputable online night guard lab should have a great return policy so that you can return the appliance if it is not working for you.
Sometimes an occluding appliance will have a better result, or if you have alignment issues, you may need a re-positioning appliance. Both of these types must be fabricated through a dental office or a TMJ specialist.
There is little to no argument that a conservative approach (avoiding surgery and trying the splint first) is the best course of action.
Interesting Factoid: TMJ affects more women than men.
How does a mouth guard for TMJ help?
It prevents the teeth from making direct contact with each other.
The disruption in contact forces the teeth to take a much needed break from each other and in turn allows the condyles to sit in a centric position.
It is useful for masticatory muscle pain relief. A TMJ mouth guard is typically fabricated out of hard acrylic or acrylic-like material.
- Relieves TMJ Pain
- Reduces or eliminates TMJ noises such as popping and/or clicking
- Relief from restricted jaw mobility
“What happens if I don’t wear a TMJ mouth guard?”
Problems will persist and can quickly get worse. If the TMJD is being caused by teeth grinding or clenching, you’re going to continue to become more vulnerable to cavities and gum recession
Risk factors of Wearing a Dental Night Guard
It is important to make sure your night guard is fitting well. Most doctors discourage the use of store bought “one size fits all” night guard types.
An improperly fitted night guard can cause changes in the bite that can result in jaw pain.
A night guard that is too tight can cause pressure on the teeth.
Areas of a custom made night guard that protrude or rough edges can irritate the gums and tongue. These can be smoothed down during an adjustment by a technician.
“How can I stop my TMJ?”
To date, there is no known cure for TMJ. Even surgery is not guaranteed to solve the problem.
Check the TMJ discussion boards in the community TMJ forums online to read some real life stories and experiences with jaw surgery for TMJ. In some cases, it has worked beautifully. In other cases, it seems to have not worked at all or has made the situation even worse. Do your research if you’re considering surgery!
Help Yourself First!
It is treatable (manageable). Treatment includes hot and cold paks, sleeping on the side, eating soft food, avoiding chewing gum, decreasing stress, relaxation techniques and wearing a mouth guard nightly.
There is counseling available as well as therapeutic jaw exercises that can be taught. This is a self exercise treatment that can increase mouth opening range and decrease pain.
Keep in mind that physical activities like moving heavy furniture or weight lifting can aggravate TMJ. Be aware of your actions. Are you clenching or grinding your teeth during the day? Try to keep the jaw relaxed.
Non-surgical treatment should always be considered first.
Arthroscopy means “to look within the joint”. Small incision instead of large incision. This procedure allows the surgeon to see cartilage and bone. Using small instruments, a video lens and light, the surgeon sees within the jaw joint. Possibly can fix a misalignment issue on the spot (if there is one), has the ability to removes inflamed tissue. Patient can go home same day.
Open Joint Surgery involves a cut in the front of the ear to expose jaw joint. Surgery can last one hour to several hours depending on complexity. This type of surgery can re-position slipped cartilage, repair injured tissue and replace a joint entirely.
Wearing a mouth guard is a preventative measure. In most cases, you can prevent any further damage by wearing a night guard consistently. It can be a very effective way to manage your TMJD.
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.
Do you have a TMJ story to share, or just want to say hello? We would love to hear from you!
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Date last reviewed for accuracy and completeness 02/25/20