The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects your skull and jawbone via a hinge-like structure that gives your jaw a considerable amount of flexibility for talking, chewing, and swallowing. In some people, this joint becomes dysfunctional, and causes severe pain not only in the joint itself, but also in the muscles and ligaments that control its movement.
TMJ pain generally has one of the following causes:
- Injury or dislocation
- An underlying health condition such as osteoarthritis
- Stress-related habits like grinding the teeth or jaw-clenching
- Incorrect jaw alignment
- General stress in ones life
When TMJ pain is caused by stress or improper jaw alignment, the use of a simple dental device can help reduce the pain, and even eliminate it altogether.
Many people who clench their jaw or grind their teeth in response to stress are unaware that they’re doing it, simply because it most often happens while they are asleep. Often they only become aware when it starts to cause TMJ pain or other problems that are apparent when they’re awake. If you have this problem, you may benefit from using an occlusal guard, an acrylic device shaped to fit over the upper or lower teeth, and prevent damage caused by grinding and clenching.
Wearing an occlusal guard can not only help to reduce TMJ pain—if you grind your teeth, wearing a guard can also prevent costly dental problems in the future, caused by the wearing down of tooth enamel. The device is easy to take care of, as it only requires daily cleaning with cold water. Would you rather invest in an occlusal guard/ bite guard/ splint or would you rather wait 10-20 years down the road and place 28 caps or crown on your teeth due to the excessive wear on your teeth from grinding. I have seen teeth split that never had a cavity on it, from grinding. I have seen the enamel “wiped away” on the top of the tooth from grinding.
A properly fitted occlusal guard will create the ideal bite in plastic. What would you rather wear away, the enamel that God gave you or a piece of plastic? It may be expensive and “your insurance does not cover it!”. Many dental benefit companies do not cover occlusal guards. Does that mean you should not have one? Absolutely not! Your dental health is between you and your dentist, not your dental benefits provider who is primarily concerned with profits. A prevention now can save you costly repairs in the future.
Improper jaw alignment can cause TMJ pain because when the upper and lower jaw don’t line up properly, the muscles that control the jaw are forced to work harder to bite and chew. This problem can be solved with the use of custom-made splints that support the jaw in a more efficient and less painful alignment.
The splints are made by taking an impression of the patient’s mouth, and using it as a mold to create a special kind of occlusal guard that is worn when you are asleep. These bite guards should NOT be worn 24 hours a day as you may get so comfortable with your new bite, you are not able to return to your old bite without the splint without having discomfort. If you have some stressful periods in your life, then it is OK to wear it during that time, but not full-time. The splint is designed and shaped specifically to correct improper jaw alignment. Over time it works to realign the patient’s biting surface, which helps relieve TMJ pain because it reduces the amount of work the jaw muscles have to do.
When we are asleep, one can do much for forceful damage to our teeth and joint. If you are grinding, an occlusal guard may be the perfect solution for you.
If you believe you may have TMJ or have other oral health concerns, please contact Deer Park Dental for more information or to schedule an appointment.