A dental splint is an appliance used to protect teeth and their supporting structures from damage caused by grinding or clenching. The splint may be in the form of either a tooth night guard or an occlusal splint.
Teeth clenching and teeth grinding can cause overuse of the muscles controlling the lower jaw, leading to pain from those muscles. The load on the joint itself can also cause changes inside the joint, leading to pain and limited opening of the mouth.
Chronic teeth grinding and clenching may eventually lead to temporomandibular disorders (TMDs). TMDs are a group of conditions that involve the muscles controlling the lower jaw, the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint), and supporting structures. Behavioural management is effective for patients suffering from TMDs. This involves reducing stress as well as making the patient aware of times during the day when they may be unconsciously clenching or grinding – such as when in front of the computer or studying, or when faced with stress at work.
If your teeth are showing wear that indicates you may be clenching or grinding your teeth at night, your GDL dentist may recommend a tooth night guard. Nightguards prevent the upper and lower teeth from coming into contact while you sleep, making them highly effective at protecting the teeth from further damage.
If you are suffering from a TMD, your dentist might suggest either a night guard or an occlusal splint. Other treatments for a TMD include changing to a soft diet, reducing stress, improving sleep, avoiding extreme jaw movements such as yawning, applying warm packs to the joint, and in some cases prescription of anti-inflammatory or muscle-relaxant medications.
All kinds of dental splint distribute the forces generated by bruxism equally between the upper and lower teeth, reducing muscle strain and joint overloading. However, these do not cure bruxism itself and patients may continue to clench and grind their teeth at night.