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Can a Bite Guard Help TMJ?
by JS Dental Lab |
You probably don’t think about how your mouth actually works until it’s out of whack. The tiny muscles and joints responsible for so many movements can cause serious pain when they aren’t working correctly.
If you’ve been feeling chronic neck, jaw, and teeth discomfort, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. You may have what we call TMJ, one of many temporomandibular joint disorders, or your muscles could just need some rest!
Either way, night guards and bite guards are common treatment suggestions on your path to relief. This blog will explain what TMJ and TMD mean, why night guards and bite guards can help, and how to find the right one for your symptoms.
What Is the Difference Between TMJ and TMD?
As you research your symptoms, you’ll run into two common acronyms: TMJ and TMD. They’re often used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing.
TMJ stands for “temporomandibular joint." This is the actual part of your body that controls your jaw’s hinge-like movements. You have two delicate joints connecting the skull and jawbone, attached to other muscles that help move the mouth and jaw.
When the TMJ is out of alignment, swollen, or overworked, you’ll notice symptoms like popping and clicking in the jaw area, discomfort when you open and close your mouth, and headaches. These are warning signs that you’re developing a TMD — temporomandibular joint disorder.
Breaking Down TMDs
There are more than 30 conditions that fall under the heading of a TMD.
They’re all similar in that they cause pain in the joint and attached muscles, and then are broken down into three classes:
- Joint disorders (including disc issues)
- Chewing muscle disorders (called masticatory muscles)
- Disorders that cause headaches
TMDs are extremely common, especially in adults. Women aged 35-44 are twice as likely to experience at least minor TMD symptoms. Most of these problems don’t last long and disappear by themselves. But millions of people have chronic temporomandibular joint disorders requiring some form of treatment.
Symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint Disorders
When you have clicking, popping, and other jaw sounds without pain, that’s a “normal” part of wear and tear on the joint. However, if you notice any of the following symptoms, you could have a TMD:
- Pain while chewing (either in the TMJ or muscles)
- Facial and neck pain
- Stiff jaw (sometimes referred to as lockjaw)
- Popping and clicking associated with pain when you open and close your mouth
- Limited range of jaw motion
- Ear problems, such as hearing loss, vertigo (dizziness), and ringing sounds
- Bite changes that affect how your upper and lower teeth close
These aren’t the only symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorders, but they’re the most common ones. There are plenty of ways to reduce the pain of a TMD, but fixing the condition requires getting to the root cause.
What Causes a TMJ Disorder?
Since you use your mouth for everything from chewing to yawning, it’s not surprising that the temporomandibular joint can easily get overworked as we age. Yet, some things cause this to happen faster than gradual wear and tear.
Genetics play a starring role in how likely you are to develop a TMD. Women are nearly twice as prone to them as men, which could mean the mechanics of the TMJ structure and hormones in the body matter. Genes also determine whether you’re at greater risk for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, both of which are more likely to cause TMDs.
Since you can’t do anything about your genetics, let’s look at the other common causes of TMDs that can be treated.
The temporomandibular joint connects to the skull, jaw muscles, and all tendons and muscles attached to them. Injury to any interconnected parts can affect the delicate balance of the TMJ.
If you’ve had any facial and neck trauma and are experiencing the symptoms mentioned above, talk to your doctor. They’ll evaluate your conditions and medical history to determine whether you need to see a specialist.
Stress and Anxiety
Psychological factors like stress and how you handle it are crucial to your TMJ health. Research shows that when you’re stressed and anxious, you’re more likely to develop a condition called bruxism.
Bruxers clench their jaw and grind their teeth unconsciously, usually while asleep. These behaviors put extra stress and pressure on the sensitive temporomandibular joint, which triggers swelling and pain in the joint, upper and lower jaw, and the muscles connected to them.
While working on reducing your stress and quitting your teeth grinding, you can do damage control by using a custom fit night guard from JS Dental Lab. These oral appliances prevent the connection of the upper and lower arches from touching, effectively reducing the grinding and clenching.
Ways to Alleviate TMJ Disorders
Dealing with TMJ pain, especially if it’s severe, can make it hard to focus on your daily activities.
The good news is that you have treatment options that run the gamut, from alleviating symptoms to fixing the problem altogether.
If your goal is to eliminate the pain now, we get it. Figuring out what’s causing the problem can come later, but TMJ pain needs to disappear fast.
Look around your home because you likely have a few treatment methods you can use to make that happen, such as:
- Application of moist heat using a lukewarm, damp towel. Place it against your jaw for five minutes, multiple times per day.
- Ice pack application, placing a cold compress or bag of ice against your jaw with a thin layer of cloth between your skin and the pack. Keep the compress in place for 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off.
- Jaw stretches, exercises, and trigger point massage techniques as recommended by your doctor.
- Rest the jaw joint. Avoid chewy and sticky foods, talking more than necessary, and anything that requires moving your mouth.
- Use a custom fit night guard to prevent teeth clenching and grinding.
Natural remedies can reduce the pain, but if your issues continue, you may need to seek professional care.
Over-the-counter pain relievers can take the edge off of your discomfort. However, your doctor can create a treatment plan for more severe pain and to help fix the cause of the problem.
In many moderate to severe cases, doctors prescribe anti-inflammatories to reduce the inflammation pushing on the nerves and causing pain.
If you’re bruxing due to depression or anxiety, you may need an antidepressant, which works to stop the grinding, relieving pain at the same time. Muscle relaxants are also commonly prescribed to give your joints and muscles the chance to recover from stress.
In addition to medication, your treatment plan should consist of physical therapy (either at home or in an office) focusing on relaxation techniques, proper posture and movement, and stress management.
In rare cases, at-home remedies and medical care aren’t enough to stop the TMJ symptoms. When that happens, surgery could be an option.
Before you get to this point, though, your doctor will have recommended a bite guard or night guard.
How can these little appliances really help when the TMJ pain is so bad? Let’s read about that next.
How Does a Night Guard or Bite Guard Help TMJ?
You’re looking into bite guards for TMJ, but your web search keeps taking you to mouth guards and night guards. What’s going on?
These oral appliances aren’t the same thing, but they are often mixed up.
Mouth guards are typically used in reference to sports guards. Athletes wear them to avoid damage to their face and mouth. They’re made from acrylic and are hard, bulky, and cumbersome. You do not want to wear them when you’re trying to sleep if you want to be comfortable.
On the other hand, night guards and bite guards are designed to rest gently in your mouth and be worn all night. They are for protection, not correction, and are usually suggested as a treatment for bruxism.
The plastic appliance slides over your upper or lower arch. If designed right, it should be strong enough to protect your teeth from grinding damage, such as eroded enamel and cracked or chipped teeth.
How well it fits depends on the kind of guard you get. You can find one-size-fits-all boil-and-bite guards over the counter, but for a better fit that lasts longer, look into having one custom-made for your unique mouth.
How Can I Find the Right Night Guard?
When you need a splint to correct your TMJ problems, you should listen to your specialist and order the one they recommend. There are multiple kinds of splints. If you don’t use the correct one, you risk making your problems worse.
Occlusal splints sold over-the-counter are easily moldable to fit over your teeth, but you won’t get an exact fit. This can force your teeth to move and cause misalignment and bite changes that increase joint pain.
If you’re trying to protect your teeth from grinding and clenching damage, a dental night guard may help. For the same reason you don’t want a one-size-fits-most TMJ splint, you shouldn’t use an OTC night guard.
Your teeth have little nuances, like sharp edges and angles, that a boil-and-bite guard doesn’t cover. And, if you wear it regularly, you’ll grind right through that flimsy material.
Custom Fit Night Guards
A custom made, professional night guard is built from higher-quality materials with enough durability to stand up to constant grinding and chewing.
You can get these from your dentist, but you’ll have to pay for office visits, fittings, and the appliance.
Our mail-order customization kits at JS Dental Lab save you the time and expense of going the dentist office route. Simply order your kit through our easy website, and we send you everything you need to have your top-of-the-line professional-quality night guard created just for you!
The night guards from our lab are made from Polyethylene terephthalate (PETG or PET) and Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA). They’re gluten, BPA, Phthalate, Latex, Sodium Laurel/Laureth Sulfate, and MMA free, and comfortable enough to allow you restful sleep all night.
For serious temporomandibular joint disorders and jaw dysfunction, talk to your TMD specialist about your treatment options.
But, if your TMJ concerns are caused by grinding teeth and jaw clenching, custom-fitted night guards from JS Dental Lab may be just the solution you need to get some much-needed pain relief.
To explore our wide variety of night guards, Shop Now.
First we should find out why your lower front teeth are aching. You don’t need to buy two guards and wear two at the same time.
We’ll reach out to you via email.
Founder, chief cook & bottle-washer
I bought the upper night guard a few weeks ago and it fits perfectly; however, I find that my lower front teeth ache in the morning. Feels like I am putting pressure and driving my lower teeth in. Would it help if I wore both upper and lower night guard?