What is a TMJ Splint?

C. K. Lanz

A TMJ splint can be one of several different types of orthodontic devices that are used to help relieve the pain associated with temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). TMJ splints are typically mouth guards that are fitted by a dentist and worn over the top or bottom teeth. These mouth guards are normally made of hard acrylic and can be worn at night, during the day, or continually depending on the needs of a particular person. It is important that the TMJ splint is fitted properly to avoid aggravating the patient’s jaw strain.

A dentist may recommend use of a TMJ splint to individuals who are experiencing chronic TMJ pain.
A dentist may recommend use of a TMJ splint to individuals who are experiencing chronic TMJ pain.

TMJ causes pain in the temporomandibular joint, located in front of the ears on each side of the head. There are many different causes of TMJ pain, including arthritis and muscle fatigue that results when the teeth are clenched or ground constantly. The vast majority of TMJ cases can be managed without significant medical intervention.

A person with TMJ.
A person with TMJ.

A TMJ splint is an artificial bite that helps protect the teeth and jaw from damage and strain. Nightguard, bite guard, and mouthpiece are other common names for the splint. All of these devices are the same. The only difference for dental professionals is when they are worn; a nightguard, for instance, is worn only at night, while a splint is never removed from a person's mouth.

Dentists make impressions of the teeth to make a TMJ splint.
Dentists make impressions of the teeth to make a TMJ splint.

When making a TMJ splint, a dentist will begin by making an impression of the person’s mouth by using dental putty or similar material. The impression is then allowed to set before being sent to a lab where a custom splint is made. It can take several weeks for the TMJ splint to be made by the lab and fitted and adjusted by the dentist.

Jaw clenching associated with TMJ may occur during sleep.
Jaw clenching associated with TMJ may occur during sleep.

The most effective TMJ splints are made and fitted by dentists. A dentist is able to sand a splint to ensure that it will be comfortable and effective for the patient. A TMJ splint can also be purchased over the counter or through the mail. Boil and bite splints can be purchased in stores and are made of a thermo plastic material that molds more closely to a patient’s teeth after being boiled and placed in the mouth. It is possible that ready-made and boil and bite splints will not fit as well as those made by a dentist.

Temporal mandibular joint dysfunction causes jaw pain and discomfort.
Temporal mandibular joint dysfunction causes jaw pain and discomfort.

Any device that is worn in the mouth for prolonged periods of time must be cleaned routinely to avoid infection. A TMJ splint can become warped if it is not stored properly, resulting in increased pain. The dentist will provide care and cleaning instructions for the splint and may recommend follow-up exams to monitor a patient’s progress.

A dentist will provide cleaning instructions for patients who are fitted with TMJ splints.
A dentist will provide cleaning instructions for patients who are fitted with TMJ splints.

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