Everything You Need to Know About TMJ Mouth Guards
by Dr. Scott Bolding | Aug. 30, 2021
Table of Contents
01. What is a TMJ Disorder?
02. What is a TMJ Mouth Guard?
03. How Do I Know I Need a Mouth Guard?
04. What About Over-the-Counter Mouth Guards?
05. Pros and Cons of TMJ Mouth Guards
06. Alternative Treatments for TMJ Disorders
TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. The TMJ connects both sides of your jawbone to your skull and acts as a hinge to allow your jaw to open, close, and move from side to side. When your jaw joint is damaged or misaligned, it is called a TMJ disorder (or TMD), which can cause a lot of pain. TMDs can occur for a number of reasons, including arthritis, injury, genetics, or even stress. Smoking, poor jaw alignment, and bruxism (the grinding or clenching of your teeth) can also cause problems with your jaw joint.
At PRECiDENT, our dentists will treat you with patience and care to ensure you receive the right solution for your problem. We will not just throw a diagnosis and solution at you in five minutes; we strive to get you the proper care you need–however long that might take. Our top priority is to provide accuracy, quality, and efficiency.
At this point, you’ve likely been assessed by a specialist and already know you have a TMD or issue with your jaw. Our goal now is to inform you on probable solutions. Whether you are simply looking to learn more or are trying to decide between several treatment options already provided by a specialist, we are here to help. One of the most common ways to treat mild to moderate TMJ disorders is a TMJ mouth guard.
What is a TMJ Mouth Guard?
A TMJ mouth guard is an oral appliance primarily used to protect your teeth, gums, and jaw from injury. This mouthpiece is typically fitted on the upper jaw and works by “absorbing” the pressure your jaw subconsciously puts on your teeth, gums, and TMJ. Essentially, it acts as a cushion piece for your mouth.
How Does a Mouth Guard Treat TMJ Disorders?
There are several ways a mouth guard can help with TMDs. It can…
- Prevent further damage to your teeth
- Keep you from clenching or grinding your teeth
- Hold your jaw in the correct position to adjust a faulty bite
- Help your jaw and facial muscles relax to reduce muscle spasms and, in turn, pain
- Prevent your jaw from locking up, clicking, or popping
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Who/What are Mouth Guards Best for?
Those who experience one or more of the following TMD symptoms might benefit from a mouth guard; however, be sure to still speak with a specialist to find the right option for your situation.
TMD symptoms include:
- Jaw pain or tenderness (in one or both joints)
- Aches in or near the ear
- Difficulty or pain while chewing
- Head, face, and/or neck pain
- Locked joint(s)–unable to open or close your mouth with ease
- A clicking or popping jaw
Even if you have not yet developed a TMJ disorder, but still suffer from jaw-related issues like bruxism (clenching or grinding your teeth), a mouth guard could help you as well. It can even prevent a TMJ disorder from developing in the future due to untreated symptoms.
Can I Use an Over-the-Counter Mouth Guard?
One of the first questions you may be asking is: Do over-the-counter (OTC) mouth guards work? The short answer is no… sorry to burst your bubble. While this may be the easier and cheaper option as opposed to custom-made mouth guards or other alternatives, OTC mouth guards inevitably do not work. In fact, they can do more harm than good.
There are two types of OTC mouth guards on the market today. One is a “one size fits all” type of appliance. The other is called “boil and bite” because it contains a mold that you warm in hot water before biting down on it. That mold is then used as the basis for your mouth guard. While “boil and bite” does provide a better fit for your teeth than the “one size fits all,” it still does not completely accommodate each person’s unique mouth shape; therefore, neither option is preferable. For one thing, if the mouth guard doesn’t provide a fully comfortable bite or proper fit, then your muscles may respond poorly to it–which can cause additional pain and aggravation. Your teeth could also shift and create even more problems than before.
At the same time, there are some potential benefits to using OTC mouth guards. If your symptoms are mild enough, this option might help–and at a lower cost. It could also provide temporary relief, which is ideal if you are waiting for your surgery date or another alternative to come your way. But if neither of those options fit your situation, you don’t want to settle–especially if it means your symptoms could get worse because of it. Always speak to a specialist before making this decision.
Why Are Custom Mouth Guards Better?
Although OTC mouth guards have limited usage, custom ones are much more reliable and have the potential to solve your TMJ problems for good. They are designed by actual dentists who have the ability to create a more accurate and personable mouth guard for you.
There are several types of custom guards, including the following: stabilization splints, anterior biteplanes, and repositioning splints. Stabilization splints fit over the upper teeth to prevent teeth grinding and jaw soreness. They ease pain by reducing the overuse or extension of jaw muscles. Anterior biteplanes also fit on the upper jaw, but only come in contact with the 6 bottom front teeth. Its purpose is to prevent both grinding and clenching by keeping the back teeth from coming in contact with one another. Repositioning splints, on the other hand, fit on the lower jaw to pull it forward or backward. This splint primarily helps with TMJ disc displacement.
Custom-made mouth guards will ensure a better and more comfortable fit. In addition, you will notice increased relief–and for a longer duration. They are thinner, yet more durable, than store-bought guards and will bring your teeth together more naturally. The lifespan varies, depending on wear and care, but custom guards typically last years longer than over-the-counter ones. So while OTC guards may be cheaper individually, they don’t last as long and would need to be replaced more often.
What are the Pros of a Mouth Guard?
One of the advantages to using a mouth guard is that, even if just for a short period of time, they will inevitably protect your teeth against damage. Not only that, but any symptoms you may be facing–jaw pain, tenderness, ear aches, difficulty chewing, etc.–can potentially be treated with a mouth guard. Since the mouth guards we offer are all custom-made, they will also be more comfortable and durable than some alternative options.
If you suffer from bruxism (clenching and grinding your teeth), mouth guards can relax your jaw and facial muscles to stop your symptoms from occurring. This will, in turn, reduce muscle spasms and relieve any pain you may be experiencing with your teeth, jaw, head, face, and/or neck. A reduction in bruxism can also improve your chewing experience and possibly unlock your jaw, keeping you from having to deal with that continuous clicking or popping sound. If your jaw is misaligned or underdeveloped, it can even restore your natural bite.
But no matter your specific issue, a custom mouth guard will always promote a good night’s sleep and prevent further damage.
What are the Cons of a Mouth Guard?
In terms of custom mouth guards, one of the largest disadvantages is the price. It varies by type and material, but you will likely have to spend over $100. The good news, though, is that they are typically covered fully or partially by insurance. Over-the-counter mouth guards, on the other hand, are completely bought out-of-pocket–no matter what insurance plan you have or how often you need a new one.
In addition to the cost, mouth guards are not the solution for everyone. Not to say they won’t work because lots of people benefit from their use, even if just for a short period. But they don’t always work long-term. And if the root of your problem is something like stress, nothing will work for your symptoms except treatments directed toward that source.
Finally, without the proper care, mouth guards can become useless. You have to know how to take care of your appliance. It is important to follow the instructions a specialist gives you to ensure your mouth guard does not warp or grow unhealthy bacteria and make matters worse.
What are Some Alternatives to Mouth Guards?
One alternative, or addition, to using a mouth guard is to make temporary lifestyle changes. You want to treat your TMD like you would any other injury, so try to rest the area and reduce inflammation. You can do this by eating softer foods, avoiding chewy meats and candies (especially gum!!), applying ice or heat to your jaw, occasionally massaging your jaw muscles, performing TMJ exercises, or taking over-the-counter medication (NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, or muscle relaxers). However, it is important that you talk to your doctor or dentist before trying any exercises or taking medication.
Another option is to receive an injection of botulinum toxin (also known as Botox) into your jaw. This relaxes the jaw muscles to ease tightness, pain, and wear on the TMJ. A final treatment option is surgery, but this is typically used as a last resort and depends considerably on the cause of your TMD. If necessary, though, it can be greatly beneficial.
What if my Issues go Deeper than my TMJ?
Some TMJ disorders are caused by obstructive sleep apnea. In these cases, the body wakes itself up in an attempt to open the airway, often pushing the lower jaw forward. This repetitive motion can cause stress on your jaw joints over time. The stress put on your joints can then lead to grinding and clenching, which could damage the jaw joint even further. Therefore, it is important to treat both the sleep apnea and TMJ problems. For milder cases of sleep apnea, you may benefit from a CPAP machine. For more severe cases, you may need surgery.
TMJ disorders are also sometimes caused by stress. When stress is to blame for your issues, you should look to other methods of treatment; a mouth guard can only go so far. Reducing stressful activities may do the trick for some, but others may want to look into therapy.
TMJ Mouth Guard Resources
The Right Diagnosis Will Help You
Find the Right Treatment Option.
Without knowing the root cause of your TMJ issues, you could receive the wrong treatment, and your symptoms could get worse. The right treatment option for you depends on your unique situation. It’s important you speak with a specialist to learn all of your options before moving forward. Many patients benefit from simple non-surgical options, while others need surgery in order to find true relief.