Up to 12% of women, men, and kids in the United States suffer from a temporomandibular joint (TMJ)disorder, which is often referred to as simply “TMJ.” When your jaw is slightly or severely misaligned, you experience symptoms such as:
A TMJ disorder sometimes goes hand-in-hand with a serious sleep-breathing disorder called sleep apnea. Sleep apnea often causes you to grind your teeth at night when your body attempts to “remind” itself to breathe. The stress from grinding leads to TMJ.
Addie Chang, DMD, a caring family dentist, often recommends a customized oral appliance to alleviate stress on the jaw and the pain of TMJ. She may also advise an oral appliance that treats sleep apnea if she determines you have that.
How can an oral appliance give you relief from TMJ? It’s simple.
You wear your custom-fit oral appliance to stop you from clenching your jaw and teeth unconsciously. The TMJ Association lists an oral appliance, also called a splint, as the most common solution for TMJ pain.
The appliance is usually made of hard acrylic resin that’s custom-molded from an impression your dentist makes of your teeth. You may wear it:
Usually, a splint is worn for a relatively short time to help you break the habit of clenching and protect your teeth from stress. We evaluate your progress and adjust your use accordingly.
While you can buy oral splints at the drugstore, they’re not as precisely custom fit as a digital scan from your dentist. They’re also flimsy and must be replaced frequently.
A dental oral appliance comes in several designs, depending on your needs. You may be fitted with a:
Depending on your needs, we may also recommend an oral appliance that repositions your jaw so that you don’t snore. As a treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, an oral appliance keeps your airways open all night long for easy breathing without teeth grinding or jaw clenching.
If you’ve been taking pain medication to alleviate TMJ discomfort, you should be able to lower the dose and may be able to discontinue it altogether eventually. By alleviating the stress on your jaw, an oral appliance gives your facial muscles, tendons, and ligaments a much-needed break.
With time, you should experience relief from other symptoms, too. Ear ringing (i.e., tinnitus) should diminish or end. Facial and neck pain should also resolve. You may notice that you sleep longer and deeper, too.