Everything You Need To Know About Occlusal Splint Therapy

Have you been told you might need occlusal splint therapy? For years, you’ve suffered from clenching and grinding your teeth in your sleep, also known as bruxism. As a result, you have recurring, chronic pain in your jaw joints and surrounding muscles, sometimes bad enough to cause headaches. Enough is enough, you finally think, and call your dentist for a consultation.

After a thorough examination, your dentist says your pain is from your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and recommends undergoing occlusal splint therapy. Read on to learn more about how this therapy works, and why your dentist may recommend a removable dental appliance

Occlusal Splint Therapy

Occlusal splint therapy is frequently the first line of treatment when a patient presents with temporomandibular joint pain. An occlusal splint is a removable dental device that fits either over the upper or lower teeth. An occlusal splint is different from an ordinary night guard which can be purchased over the counter at your local pharmacy. One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to splints. Instead, splints are stabilization appliances customized precisely for your mouth and to protect your biting surfaces.

These two joints connect the jaw to the skull and are found in front of each ear. These joints provide the movement needed for speaking, eating and facial expression. When temporomandibular disorders occur, jaw muscles begin to spasm. TMJ pain can also be caused by a faulty jaw position or misalignment of the upper and lower teeth. This can cause muscle hyperactivity or spasms. Muscles and the surrounding tendons and ligaments become inflamed, which can lead to migraines. If caused by bruxing, the destructive forces of increased pressure on your teeth mean it’s essential to make sure your teeth are protected.

A blow to the jaw can cause a misalignment. Biting one’s fingernails can also trigger temporomandibular disorder. Stress and anxiety can cause jaw issues, or make existing symptoms worse. Sometimes mandibular teeth are misaligned with the upper teeth. Whether from an involuntary habit such as nighttime grinding, a condition like arthritis, or some other cause, discomfort in your upper or lower jaw requires dental treatment.

Common symptoms of TMJ disorder include:

  • Popping or grinding of your jaw joint whilst eating or yawning
  • Difficulty eating
  • Difficulty with jaw movements
  • The joint locking in either an open or closed position
  • Discomfort radiating to the jaw muscles and temple
  • Headache, including migraines
  • Swelling around the joints

What causes occlusal splints?

Most occlusal splints are made with dental-grade acrylic resin which is softer than your teeth but provides ample protection.

To make an occlusal splint, your dentist will most likely start off with x-rays. Sometimes, if an x-ray is inconclusive, an MRI may be ordered. These imaging results help your dentist design a personalized, successful treatment plan. Your dentist will make a mould or impression of your teeth and send it off to a dental lab. The lab will then fabricate an occlusal splint designed for your mouth. When your new occlusal splint arrives, you’ll meet again with your dentist for a fitting. A dental splint is sometimes referred to as a bite plane or bite splint.

Improvements from your splint therapy are not immediate. This is why it’s important to go to all your dental appointments, to allow your dentist to work with you and keep track of your progress. Usually, your stabilization appliance will need to be adjusted four times over the initial three month period. After such an adjustment, your dental splint may feel tight, and you may be advised to take some ibuprofen. Occlusal appliances are usually the first step in treating clenching and grinding or facial discomfort. If further treatment is needed, your dentist will advise you.

What are the advantages of occlusal splints?

  • Preventing tooth movement or damage from bruxism
  • Non-invasive
  • Easy to insert and remove
  • Easy to clean
  • Helps realign teeth
  • Helps relax muscles

Knowing how to best care for your new splint is a breeze – after brushing your teeth, use your brush and some soft liquid hand soap to brush both the inside and outside of your splint. Be sure to rinse it very well (as well as your brush!) and then store the splint in the container it came in. Wearing the splint every night is key to your success.

How long do occlusal splints last?

With nightly use, a splint should last up to several years, if not longer. However, keep in mind a splint does not prevent bruxism, but instead protects teeth. Because of this, a splint will eventually break down or crack as it ages. If that occurs, contact your dentist immediately to see if a new occlusal appliance is needed.

Different Types of Occlusal Splints

There are several different types of splints, and your dentist will recommend the right one for you. Some examples of splint types include:

  • Permissive
  • Non-permissive
  • Soft
  • Hydrostatic

Soft and hydrostatic splints typically separate tightly-spaced teeth and aren’t recommended for bruxism or TMJ problems. In fact, they can worsen bruxism.

Nonpermissive splints have indentations that limit joint movement. Permissive splints include bite planes and stabilization splints that allow the teeth to glide over the biting surface.

If you have arthritis, some sort of surgical or invasive procedure may be needed. If that’s the case, your dentist may refer you to a prosthodontist, or another appropriately qualified health practitioner. You will need to consider the recommended treatment since every invasive procedure carries risks.

Summary

Occlusal splint therapy is usually the modality of choice for TMJ problems and bruxism. These splints are custom-made for your mouth out of dental-grade resin and are easy to wear, removable and simple to care for. Most prevent tooth wear. Splint design depends on your presenting symptoms and dental findings. While splints are often very effective, sometimes other options must be used. If that’s the case, your dentist may refer you to another specialist, especially if surgery or other invasive procedure is indicated.

If you are suffering from frequent headaches, facial discomfort, popping of your jaw joints, or other symptoms, contact Dental on York without delay or book an appointment today.

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