Dental splints, or mouth guards, are used by millions of people as a pain remedy for migraines and to protect their teeth and jaws from injury. Patients suffering from a painful dental condition called temporomandibular join disorder (TMJ), which can cause chronic headaches, are often prescribed a dental splint to wear at night to reduce teeth grinding (bruxism). Athletes use splints to protect their teeth and jaws during contact sports.
Dental splints fit over the upper teeth or the lower teeth and come in a variety of models. The kind of splint used depends upon the purpose, individual comfort and the circumstances in which it is being used.
Ready-to-Wear Dental Splints
Ready-to-wear, or stock mouth protectors come in a variety of sizes. Sporting-goods stores and pharmacies carry them in stock.
Ready-to-wear splints are generally inexpensive and anyone can purchase them without a prescription. However, they are also less effective than prescription versions. Users often find them cumbersome and difficult to adjust to. Ready-to-wear splints can't be adjusted and may not fit well for some users. They typically fit over the upper teeth.
Athletes sometimes use the stock mouth protectors for dental protection during sports events.
Boil and Bite Splints
"Boil-and-bite" splints are a version of over-the-counter splints. Users can mould them to fit their individual bite. They are inexpensive and don't require a prescription. Immersing the splint in hot water softens the splint and makes it easier to mould to the patient's teeth. Sporting goods stores and dental supplies usually stock boil-and-bite splints, which typically fit over the upper teeth.
Dental technology has led to a wide variety of made-to-order dental splints for treating TMJ. Dentists make most splints after taking a cast of the patient's bite. The cast goes to a laboratory where specialists make a personalised acrylic splint. Most splints fit on the upper teeth, although orthodontic treatment or bite alignment sometimes require the splint on the bottom teeth.
One popular design is the nociceptive trigeminal inhibitory splint (NTI), which fits over the upper front teeth and has been found to be effective in preventing TMJ-related headaches. An article published in the BMC Oral Health's July 2008 issue by researchers H. Stapelmann and J. C. Türp found that patients who suffered from intense TMJ pain experienced relief when using the appliance.
Another model is the Levandoski splint, which fits over the bottom teeth and helps to maintain the patient's proper bite alignment.
An advantage of the made-to-order splint is that a dentist periodically can adjust it to fit changes in the individual's bite. This dentists usually does this during an office visit.
Made-to-order mouth guards tend to be more expensive than over-the-counter versions, but sometimes the user can charge it against medical or dental insurance.
Dentists usually don't recommend splints for children (unless splints are part of orthodontic treatment). TMJ sufferers should seek the advice of a dentist trained in TMJ treatment before purchasing a dental splint.