A TMJ (temporomandibular joint) appliance may relieve pain, discomfort and stiffness in the area where the upper and lower jaw connect, just in front of the ears. Though temporomandibular disorders (TMD) may improve without dental or medical treatment, dentists sometimes prescribe a TMJ appliance to reduce clenching or grinding the teeth, which may worsen TMD symptoms.
Symptoms of TMD include pain in the muscles around the jaw joints, limited movement, cracking, clicking or popping sounds, headaches that start in front of the ear, and facial muscle spasms. To diagnose the disorder, a dentist assesses how the jaw joints move and examines the patient's teeth and facial muscles for tenderness and signs of teeth grinding or clenching.
TMJ appliances may reduce the symptoms of TMD by reducing pressure on the jaw joints or realigning the bite. The standard TMJ appliance is a stabilization splint, which is also called a bite guard or bite plate. As The TMJ Association (TMJA) explains, a splint is a hard dental appliance made of acrylic resin that fits over the upper or lower teeth. The device prevents contact between the teeth, and when the teeth touch the splint, they're in the least harmful and most correct position, according to Cleveland Clinic. Splints are generally worn 24 hours a day, but dentists may also prescribe night guards that the patient wears while sleeping.
More rarely, dentists may prescribe another TMJ appliance called a mandibular repositioning splint (MORA), which corrects misalignment of the bite between the upper and lower teeth.
Benefits of Wearing a TMJ Appliance
Some of the benefits of wearing a TMJ splint are reduced pressure on the jaw joints and surrounding muscles, and they make it harder for patients to grind and clench their teeth. However, according to TMJA, studies of the effectiveness of stabilization splints in reducing pain have been inconclusive. The association recommends that patients wear a stabilization splint for only a short period of time. If the splint causes or increases their TMD pain, patients should stop wearing the appliance and contact their dentist.
The MORA is a more invasive treatment that may cause permanent changes to the bite. TMJA and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research advise against using TMJ appliances that cause permanent effects.
Splints, night guards and MORAs are removable appliances, which means that wearing them shouldn't interfere with normal daily care of your teeth. Brushing with a Colgate 360° Total Advanced Floss-Tip Bristles toothbrush cleans hard-to-reach areas of the mouth that may be difficult to access due to difficulties with opening the jaw.
TMD is a painful condition that may interfere with everyday activities like eating, drinking and speaking. If you've tried other treatment options, wearing a TMJ appliance might be the right step for you. Speak to your dentist about the type of device that's most likely to relieve your symptoms.