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What Are Dental Splints? Do They Help TMJ?

8 min read
by Dylan Hao |

Key Takeaways: Dental splints, AKA night guards, come in various formats. Certain splints can aid in TMJ relief when worn in short, strategic sessions. Understanding the types of splints can help you choose the one that is right for your symptoms.

Solution: A night guard from JS Dental Lab can be an affordable way to alleviate your TMD symptoms.


In your search for TMJ pain relief, you’ve come across the dental splint and want to know if this appliance really works for the pain.

Dental splints, commonly also called night guards, are a removable device that covers your upper or lower teeth. They’re made in professional dental labs and are typically constructed from hard acrylic resin. 

Some night guards are worn all day and night for a short time, while others are used at night for extended periods. 

Those designed for use as a splint are recommended for short durations.

Should you get a TMJ splint or night guard for your problem? 

What do these devices do, and can they help your pain?

This article explains the differences between TMJ splints and night guards and what each one does, so you can decide which appliance is right for you.

Understanding TMJ Splints Vs. Night Guards

When you’re looking for something to help the pain in your mouth, you’ll come across two terms: a TMJ splint and a night guard

While they’re often used interchangeably, there are distinct differences between the two devices.

General TMJ Splints

A temporomandibular joint (TMJ) splint is designed to reduce pressure on your teeth and jaw joints. It’s a standard part of the treatment plan for people with temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD).

These devices are usually bulky and similar in design to sports mouthguards, although some look more like retainers. However, if you only need the front teeth covered and not the full arch, yours may be smaller. 

Either way, the point of the TMJ splint is to teach your jaw muscles how to relax again, ultimately relieving the extra stress on the joint and the connecting tissues.

Night Guards

Under the category of TMJ splints is the specific type of appliance called the night guard. These are the most common devices worn to help multiple oral health issues, from bruxism to TMJ.

Unlike bulky splints, night guards are designed to be worn comfortably overnight.

While you sleep, you don’t have control over your jaw’s tension. You may clench the jaw and grind your teeth severely, damaging the enamel and the connecting joints and tissues.

The night guard is made from food-grade materials. The kind of material depends on the manufacturer.

For instance, JS Dental Lab’s guards are guaranteed to be free of: 

  • Gluten
  • Phthalate
  • Latex
  • BPA
  • MMA
  • Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate 

The guards are made domestically in their lab in Hayward, CA, and are created from Polyethylene terephthalate (PETG), PET, and Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA). All materials are biocompatible and safe for human use, and each guard is uniquely crafted to fit the user.

The other version of a dental splint is an occlusal guard. These devices look like night guards but are worn over the upper teeth during the day.

Our devices are molded to your teeth and shaped by a lab. You can go through your dentist’s office, or order yours custom-made online through providers like us. Because they’re designed to match your teeth precisely, our night guards offer ultimate protection while still being comfortable.

How TMJ Splint Therapy Can Help

The TMJ sits in front of your ear, where your lower jaw meets the skull. It moves when your mouth moves, whether you’re talking, chewing, swallowing, or yawning.

Although it’s always moving, it’s incredibly delicate, using multiple muscles, bones, and ligaments to function correctly. If any of these parts become irritated or “out of whack,” the TMJ lets you know by popping, clicking, or hurting.

These signs and more let you know you may have a TMD. 

Types and Causes of TMDs

The reason for each person’s TMD varies and isn’t always obvious.

Symptoms can arise due to jaw joint or muscle issues coming from injury/trauma, grinding and clenching (bruxism), missing teeth, misaligned teeth, a maloccluded (bad) bite, arthritis, or stress.

In the TMD designation, there are more than 30 disorders, but all of them fall into one of three categories:

    1. Internal derangement of the joint — A structural problem that usually comes from displacement of the disc or lower jaw injury
    2. Degenerative joint disease — A problem that stems from overuse or aging of the TMJ, resulting in inflammation or degeneration
    3. Myofascial pain disorder — A muscular issue causing pain or discomfort in the tissues around the TMJ, often caused by bruxism

Your problem can be one or a combination of these disorders.

TMD Symptoms

man holding the side of his face as if in jaw pain from TMJ/TMD


So, how do you know if you’re dealing with TMD and need a splint to help you? 

Your dentist may have suggested the device after examining your mouth and asking about your symptoms.

While everyone’s condition is unique to them, there are a few telltale signs of TMJ problems, such as:

  • Ongoing pain in the facial area, including the jaw, neck, and shoulders
  • Pain around or in the ear
  • Limited range of motion in the mouth and jaw
  • Trouble chewing or swallowing
  • Swelling around the facial area
  • Clicking and popping noises when the mouth opens and closes
  • Neck pain
  • Headaches

When these symptoms are ongoing, splint therapy is a conservative treatment that can help fix the problem at its root.

What Splint Therapy Consists Of

Splint therapy uses a therapeutic device to treat a TMJ disorder. They’re designed to help stabilize your bite, prevent wear or trauma to the mouth, or reduce the symptoms of your oral health condition.

If your doctor has recommended splint therapy, it’s essential to know which type of splint you need and its intended goal. Because there are so many kinds of splints and even more symptoms of TMJ disorders, finding the appropriate device and avoiding over-the-counter appliances is essential.

How Splints Reduce Pain

Splints relieve the pain of overused muscles, bones, and ligaments in the mouth. They help improve jaw function so that it moves fluidly.

Wearing your custom-fit splint consistently gives your jaw and the connected system a chance to recover from overuse. 

For example, if your TMJ pain comes from bruxing, a night guard prevents the upper and lower teeth from touching. 

Because they don’t get the connection they need to clench and grind, the damage from bruxism is reduced, and your muscles don’t work so hard while sleeping. The result is a gradual decrease in jaw pain and other symptoms.

Types of TMJ Splints

Treatment options for TMJ splints encompass a range of solutions, from over-the-counter devices to orthodontics.

But most people benefit from an in-between device, custom-made for their mouth and designed to treat their symptoms.

Hard/Soft/Customizable Splints

Custom-made splints come in hard, soft, and customizable versions. These splints are designed for bruxism, long term wear, and TMJ disorders.

The kind you need will depend on how severe your condition is. 

If your teeth clenching tends to be mild, a soft splint could be the solution. But if it’s a strong bite, you may need a hard guard that you can’t chew through easily. 

Over-the-Counter Splint

While you’re shopping for a splint, you want the best deal you can get, so you may be tempted to grab an OTC night guard. These are likely the cheapest solution, but they’re not designed for long-term use.

OTC splints help reduce damage to your teeth while you’re waiting for a professional device that fits your mouth.

But if you wear them as a permanent solution, they can cause more problems.

Repositioning Splint

When your jaw isn’t in the correct placement, a repositioning splint can help. These devices move the lower jaw backward or forward to train it to sit properly. 

Using the splint for more than six weeks can be dangerous.

If you’ve been prescribed this type of treatment, work with your doctor and dentist to ensure there is no long term damage to the joint or permanent bite changes.

Nociceptive Trigeminal Inhibition Tension Suppression System (NTI – TSS)

Go ahead and call this one the NTI splint; we don’t blame you!

The nociceptive trigeminal inhibition tension suppression system (it’s a mouthful, pun intended) sits on your upper front teeth. 

Its intended purpose is to prevent your teeth from grinding and clenching, as a night guard does. The difference is that the NTI-TSS only fits over a few teeth, which puts added stress on those covered chompers.

If you use this splint, it must be custom-fit snugly; otherwise, it’s small enough to be a choking hazard if it falls off when you’re sleeping.

Your TMJ specialist or dentist can help you decide which splint is best for you. However, if your condition isn’t severe enough to head to the professionals yet, a night guard might be the solution. 

When to Use Night Guards Instead of Splints

TMJ splints are usually worn on the upper and lower jaw and are recommended for patients with TMD.

On the other hand, night guards are designed to be worn on the upper or lower teeth to keep them from connecting. They’re ideal for bruxers as a preventative measure, since untreated bruxism frequently leads to TMJ.

Whichever your preference, finding the right splint or night guard is vital.

With it, your symptoms can gradually disappear, and you can return to regular daily activities like eating your favorite meals!

What to Look for in the Right Splint or Night Guard

If your doctor recommends a splint, it may be covered by your insurance. Some stabilization splints, bite splints, or occlusal splints are part of TMJ dysfunction therapy. 

Check with your insurance provider to see if they cover the particular dental appliance you’ve been prescribed before you invest in one out-of-pocket.

Choosing a Splint

However, insurance coverage is only one factor in choosing a splint.

It must be made from a dental grade, FDA-cleared material and intended for the prescribed usage.

You’ll also want to verify that the provider who fits you for the splint will make adjustments until it is comfortable for you to wear for long periods. Check the reviews to see the device's durability and how frequently you’ll need to go in for repairs.

If you go with a night guard, remember that insurance typically doesn’t cover them. Check your policy first, just in case.

Selecting a Night Guard

close-up of a smiling woman holding her night guard in front of her teeth

Choosing your night guard also involves looking for devices made from dental-grade, FDA-approved materials.

You can get a custom-fit device from your dentist, but these involve expensive out-of-pocket costs for office visits, plus the price of the device and fittings.

We provide the same high-quality night guards, custom-made for you, at a fraction of the cost.

Visit our website and order your impression kit, then follow the easy instructions to make your bite mold. Return the kit, and your night guard will be delivered to your mailbox within a few days. 

Even better, our customer service professionals will help you through the whole process and answer your questions until you’re satisfied with your appliance.

Conclusion

If you’re dealing with a TMJ disorder, it doesn’t have to be a permanent condition.

Between the amazing innovations in dentistry and working with the right doctor to treat your symptoms, you can reduce or eliminate your pain and get back to the quality of life you had before TMD impacted it.

A night guard from JS Dental Lab could be your next step toward better oral health.

Contact us to see how we can design a custom-made splint to minimize the damage and reduce your TMD symptoms today.

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