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Can a Night Guard Help TMJ?

9 min read
by JS Dental Lab |

 Experiencing issues with your jaw can cause more and more discomfort the longer it goes on. We know how concerning that can be when the pain, stiffness, and other symptoms start to interfere with daily life! 

After doing a bit of research, you might be wondering if a night guard could help. That’s an excellent question! We’re here to offer the answers. 

Ahead, we will discuss everything you need to know about jaw problems like  TMJ and whether or not a night guard could potentially provide relief. 

What Is the Difference Between TMJ and TMD?

You’ve probably seen a lot of information that generally refers to jaw problems as TMJ or TMD. 

But what do these terms actually mean, and what’s the difference? And are all jaw problems related to TMD?

For starters, TMJ simply refers to the temporomandibular joint. It’s the mechanism that connects your mandible to your skull and pivots to allow movements like chewing, speaking, smiling, and yawning. 

However, jaw problems aren’t always caused by the temporomandibular joint itself. 

Temporomandibular disorders, or TMD, is a medical term for a wide range of symptoms that cause jaw pain. TMD is a generic way of describing problems with the TMJ, as well as the muscles, tissue, and cartilage surrounding it.  

Any condition that causes jaw pain is considered a form of TMD, whether the joint is the source of the problem or not. Certain medical conditions like fibromyalgia and arthritis can cause jaw discomfort, as well as muscular injuries. 

And it’s worth noting that not all jaw pain is necessarily a sign you have a TMJ disorder. Ahead, we’ll discuss how to tell if your jaw pain is likely due to TMD and how you can find relief.

What are the Symptoms of TMD?

Temporomandibular joint disorders have a variety of symptoms depending on the cause and severity of the original problem. Several complications may also arise as a result. 

These might include:

  • Jaw pain
  • Earaches
  • Problems sleeping and sleep apnea
  • Facial pain
  • Stiffness in the jawbone and joint
  • Popping, clicking, crackling, or grinding sounds
  • Pain or difficulty chewing or speaking
  • Difficulty opening your mouth
  • Stuck/locked jaw when you open or close your mouth

A few of the dental complaints associated with a TMJ disorder include:

  • Tooth pain
  • Misalignment or crowding (upper teeth, lower teeth, or both)
  • Teeth grinding and clenching (bruxism)

What Causes a TMJ Disorder?

Only a dentist or specialist familiar with joint health can determine the exact cause of discomfort or dysfunction in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). 

However, a few common risk factors may influence your diagnosis and the best treatment approach for your unique condition.

Genetics and Medical Conditions

Unfortunately, your genetics and a family history of certain medical conditions can also increase your risk of developing them. And TMJ disorders are no different, especially If you have a family or personal history of specific diagnoses that affect cartilage health, like Rheumatoid and Osteoarthritis. 

Whether inherited genetically or not, diseases that impact connective tissue definitely make you more susceptible to developing a TMJ disorder. 

Stress

Sure, life is stressful for everyone. But are you aware of how stress affects your individual physical and emotional health? 

Many people who develop TMJ disorders are unaware that their unresolved stress makes them grind and clench their teeth while they sleep, or in some cases, all the time. 

This serious, potentially harmful condition called bruxism can lead to jaw pain and misalignment if you leave it untreated for long. 

Facial and Dental Injuries

If none of the previous causes apply to you, perhaps you experienced an impact or blow to the facial area that may have caused your jaw to misalign. 

This type of injury can become progressively worse over time and cause unforeseen complications in the jawbone and joint, your facial muscles, sinuses, ears, and teeth.

Ways to Alleviate TMJ Disorders

woman doing yoga to relieve stress

Let’s say you’ve been diagnosed with a disorder of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and are curious about what’s next. 

These are a few of the most frequently recommended remedies:

  • Eating a diet of softer foods
  • Lifestyle changes (like giving up chewing gum or drugs)
  • Adjusting medications
  • Behavioral awareness and therapy for stress and anxiety
  • Trying relaxation techniques, like meditation or yoga
  • Physical therapy stretches and exercises
  • Pills or injections to reduce inflammation
  • Wearing a night guard to serve as a buffer between your upper and lower teeth (more on this ahead!)

More severe cases that interfere with your ability to eat, drink, speak, or move your jaw joint for any reason might require a serious procedure to correct. 

If that’s the case, a dentist, orthodontist, or dental surgeon (DDS) will likely recommend corrective approaches such as:

  • Repositioning splints to move the lower jaw
  • Stabilization splints to prevent the upper teeth from grinding
  • Correcting tooth and jaw misalignment with braces or alignment trays
  • Surgery to improve jaw movement or repair the jaw joint

What is a Night Guard?

If you have questions about what mouth guards and night guards are (and what they do), you’ve come to the right place! 

Generally speaking, a mouth guard, bite guard, or night guard is an oral appliance designed to protect your teeth and jaw.

You can wear a mouth or bite guard for specific daytime activities, like when playing contact sports. 

You wear a night guard at night as a barrier between your upper and lower teeth. It may protect your jaw and teeth from developing the symptoms of a TMJ disorder (or from making them worse!) 

Night guards provide an array of benefits. But they aren’t one-size-fits-all when it comes to what they do. 

That’s right: there are a variety of night guards available. So next, we’ll help you decide which one might be right for you. 

Types of Night Guards

different types of night guards

A few different types of night guards are available depending on your condition, needs, and budget. Let’s explore your options. 

Custom Night Guards

Custom-made night guards are the highest quality option for people suffering from bruxism and symptoms of TMJ disorders. They are created for you and you alone.

Because the process involves taking an impression of your teeth to make a custom mold, this type of night guard provides the most comfortable fit. 

It can also relieve symptoms like:

  • Daytime and nighttime teeth clenching and grinding (bruxism)
  • Jaw pain (TMJ pain)
  • Tight or stiff jaw muscles

Companies like JS Dental Lab create custom night guards just for you to protect against teeth grinding (bruxism) and jaw clenching. As mentioned, if you have these problems, they can lead to serious health conditions (including TMJ disorders). 

Because we make custom night guards from a mold of your teeth using high-quality dental material, they’re the most effective and long-lasting type of night guard. 

Just as the name implies, you wear it each night on your upper or lower teeth while you sleep and take it out in the morning.  

We at JS Dental Lab highly recommend custom night guards over stock versions. We’ve not only seen first hand the difference they can make in the lives of those who have dental issues like TMJ, doctors recommend them versus over-the-counter options as well.

In a conversation with the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Karyn Khan, DDS, makes the following observation: 

“If the mouthguard doesn’t provide a comfortable bite, then the muscles won’t respond well, resulting in even more pain,” she explains. “With custom mouthguards, we can establish a comfortable relationship between your bite, your TMJ and the muscles that move your jaw.”

For mild TMD users, we recommend our 3D guard because our 3D guard uses both upper and lower impressions to take into account the user's natural bite and calibrate the guard for a more balanced bite. (For more information on how this would work for you, contact JS Dental for details as well for personalized support.) 

A night guard custom made for you and your mouth is the best solution for providing a buffer between your upper and lower teeth. Still, to provide you with more information, we’ll discuss over-the-counter night guards and if they’re effective for TMJ.

Over-the-Counter Night Guards

There are several over-the-counter night guards available for purchase. Depending on the guard type, you can find them at pharmacies, sporting goods stores, or any retailer that carries a broad range of oral health care items. 

Here’s what you may want to know about these over-the-counter night guards before choosing them as an option. 

Boil-and-Bite Night Guards

A boil-and-bite night guard is the most common variety people use as a more affordable alternative to custom dental appliances. Just like the name implies, you expose the base to boiling water for a certain amount of time. Once it’s cool enough, you bite into the material to create an impression of your bite. 

While a boil-and-bite night guard may seem like an easy, inexpensive way to treat jaw pain and other TMJ disorder symptoms, that isn’t always the case.

Why?

Boil and bite guards are often made of cheap plastics and they are very soft. They can stimulate the jaw to chew more and aggravate existing jaw issues.

Professionals craft custom-made night guards and night guards using high-quality materials to ensure a comfortable fit. Boil-and-bite options leave a lot of room for error, possibly making the device unsafe or worsening your existing symptoms. 

Stock Mouth Guard

Stock mouth guards are not for TMJ treatment. Regardless, it’s worth discussing this type of product since it is likely to come up if you research your options online. 

Instead of wearing it consistently as a treatment for symptoms like teeth grinding and jaw clenching, you use stock mouth guards to protect against dental injuries during certain risky activities.

The most common uses for stock mouth guards include contact sports (such as football, boxing, or hockey), engaging with large animals, film stunts, and high-risk outdoor activities like mountain biking. 

Can a Night Guard Help TMJ?

If you’d like to know whether or not a night guard can help TMJ disorders, it’s essential to understand that treatments are not one-size-fits-all. Everyone is different, and diagnosis of your unique condition requires an examination by a dental professional. 

Guards do not treat TMJ, they do not help the actual TMJ issues themselves, they ONLY provide assistance in protecting the teeth from damage that results from TMJ behaviors.

A dentist or dental surgeon (DDS) will be able to suggest the best treatment options for you and offer advice for your other needs, such as pain relief or managing co-occurring conditions like sleep apnea. 

Read on to overview how night guards typically fit into a treatment plan for TMJ disorders (or TMD). 

How Might a Night Guard Help?

In the words of the Cleveland Clinic:

“Wearing a dental mouthguard for sleeping — not to be confused with athletic mouthguards like those worn by football players — can protect your teeth and soothe your jaw pain.”

How?

A night guard helps prevent behaviors like teeth grinding (bruxing) and jaw clenching that can develop or worsen problems with the jawbone, jaw joint, facial muscles, or teeth.

If you take action when you notice the initial symptoms, night guards might help avoid serious TMJ problems. 

Oral devices like these have made a positive difference with a simple solution for issues like jaw pain and headaches. At JS Dental Lab, we see how successful they can be!

In addition to using a night guard to heal certain symptoms, severe cases you’ve ignored for too long often require more proactive TMJ treatment procedures, which we’ll discuss in the next section. 

What Will Happen If I Don’t Treat or Prevent the Causes of TMJ?

We sympathize with how stressful and inconvenient it can be to have jaw pain or difficulty with daily movements that interfere with your overall well-being!

But please, don’t wait to visit a dentistry practice experienced in treating TMD if you notice any of the symptoms we’ve discussed previously in this article, regardless of the severity. 

There are good reasons to treat TMJ disorders as soon as possible: if you ignore the symptoms, you put yourself at risk of severe complications:

  • Ear and sinus infections that may become chronic
  • Requiring invasive and expensive dental procedures
  • Needing surgery or corrective splints
  • Developing arthritis that hinders jaw movement or makes it painful  

To fully understand the risks of allowing symptoms like pain and stiffness in your jaw joint, facial muscles, upper or lower teeth, and even your sinuses or ears, you’ll need to see a doctor or TMJ specialist who can provide a professional assessment of your condition. 

Conclusion

Suffering from TMJ or TMD can be immensely painful and impact nearly every aspect of daily life. If you’re experiencing the symptoms of TMJ disorders, you’re not alone in exploring the best treatments for this challenging condition. 

Refer to these tips throughout your treatment journey, but always consult a professional dentist who can provide personalized advice if severe symptoms interfere with your daily well-being. 

Contact JS Dental Lab to learn how our custom night guards can help TMJ disorders. 

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