The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the bone joint that connects your upper and lower jaw in front of the ears. It's one of the most complex joints in your body, and since you use it every time you chew, eat or talk, problems with this joint can be noticeable. If you're suffering from a disorder of the TMJ, your dentist may recommend wearing a TMJ splint for pain relief.
Symptoms of TMJ Disorders
People with TMJ disorders may feel pain in one or both of their jaw joints. The pain may also be present in other areas. Pain in and around the ears or an aching pain in the face are also possible signs of TMJ disorders.
Chewing can be difficult or painful for people with TMJ disorders, explains the Mayo Clinic. The jaw joint can even lock, which means it's harder to close or open your mouth. This can make basic tasks like eating or talking difficult or painful. Since these symptoms can have a serious effect on a person's quality of life, seeking treatment is very important.
TMJ splints are the most widely used treatment option for people with TMJ disorders, explains the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). Splints are custom-made dental appliances that fit over either your upper or your lower teeth. Your dentist will take an impression of your teeth, and then a dental laboratory will mold a piece of acrylic to perfectly fit your teeth.
Your dentist will tell you how often you should wear your splint, and when you should wear it. Splints can be worn at night or during the day.
Benefits of TMJ Splints
TMJ splints keep your teeth slightly apart, which helps take the pressure off of the joints of your jaw and the muscles surrounding the joints. Without this pressure, the area can relax. Splints also make it harder for you to clench or grind your teeth, so if your TMJ discomfort was caused by these bad habits, you may feel relief.
While some people find pain relief from splints, the NIDCR explains that studies of the effectiveness of splints are inconclusive. If your splint doesn't help or if it makes your jaw discomfort worse, remove it and see your dentist. Alternative treatments, like a soft foods diet, ice packs, moist heat, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be recommended in place of the splint.
Wearing Your Splint with Confidence
If your dentist recommends wearing your splint during the day, you may be feeling nervous about its impact on your smile. Since splints are made of clear acrylic, they're not very noticeable, and people will need to look closely at your teeth to see that you're wearing one. Splints look similar to the clear aligners that are used for straightening teeth discreetly.
Oral Hygiene with TMJ Disorders
When your jaw hurts, cleaning your teeth may be more difficult, but oral care is still important. If plaque and food particles are left on your teeth, you could develop further oral health problems, like gum disease or cavities.
To keep your teeth and gums healthy, brush twice a day with a toothbrush like the Colgate 360° Enamel Health Soft Toothbrush for Sensitive Teeth, which includes a cheek and tongue cleaner. Once a day, floss between your teeth and along your gumline. If you can't open your mouth wide enough to floss, the TMJ Association recommends using alternatives like interdental brushes or floss holders.
Don't forget to clean your TMJ splint, too. The TMJ Association suggests cleaning your splint once a day with mild dish soap or a denture cleaner. This helps remove plaque and bacteria from your splint.
If you're suffering from pain in and around your jaw, see your dentist right away for treatment.