TMJ can be highly uncomfortable for some people. The repetitive clenching of the jaw or grinding of the teeth can lead to jaw pain, headaches, teeth sensitivity, and other negative side effects. TMJ can also be a result of a dislocated jaw, muscular spasms in the face, misalignment of teeth, or arthritis in the temporomandibular joint. Although these issues could be fixed with surgery, most people would prefer to avoid this procedure and try a less invasive option first. Besides issues needing physical correction, like a dislocated jaw, most patients can use a night guard to reduce their TMJ symptoms.
What are Night Guards?
Night guards are plastic mouth pieces that are molded to fit your teeth and rest your jaw in a natural way. They are used to protect the teeth from destructive grinding and help prevent the person from clenching their jaw as much. They are primarily worn at night to stop any unconscious grinding and clenching. Usually, night guards are made BPA and latex-free, so patients shouldn’t have to worry about allergies excluding them from this option.
Other types of mouthpieces include stabilization splints and repositioning splints. Stabilization splints fit over the teeth and are flat on the top. These allow jaw muscles to relax so the pain of TMJ is lessened. Usually a physician will recommend the patient wear them all day for 6 to 8 months. Repositioning splints are designed to reposition the jaw to reduce pain associated with misalignment. These are also worn all day for as long as it takes to reduce initial pain and determine a long-term care plan.
Types of Night Guards
Most patients prefer to wear night guards since these don’t have to be worn all day. Depending on the cause of your TMJ, your orthodontist may recommend this or another type of mouth guard. Night guards come in three different choices: soft, hard, and dual laminated.
- Soft: This type of night guard is made with soft plastic and won’t damage the teeth if the patient grinds their teeth hard. Even though these guards are more flexible than the others, they are still molded to fit the patient’s mouth. Due to the soft nature of these guards, patients may feel an increased desire to bite down on the guard or grind their teeth. This can lead to a shorter lifespan of the guard, so their warranties are usually a bit shorter. Still, a professionally made soft night guard is still better than a generic over-the-counter guard.
- Hard: More extreme grinders or clenchers may need to go with the harder acrylic type of night guard. Although they are made of harder plastic, these night guards shouldn’t feel too bulky in the mouth. However, since these are formed to fit your exact teeth, you may have to redo them if you are planning on having any dental work in the near future. Even cavity fillings can cause the acrylic night guards to not fit properly anymore.
- Dual Laminated: These night guards take the best of both worlds and combine them into one device. The inner portion is made of the softer plastic and the outer shell is harder acrylic. This way, it feels soft on the patient’s teeth but still provides durable protection on the outside.