The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects your lower jaw to your skull. It lets you open and close your mouth, speak, and chew. TMJ disorders are problems related to your TMJ and often cause pain and jaw function issues.
What Is an Occlusal Orthotic?
A night guard, also known as a bite splint or occlusal guard, is an occlusal appliance worn while sleeping to prevent damage to the teeth from clenching and grinding. The mouthguard is made from soft material, like plastic, acrylic, or laminate resin, that is custom-fitted to the contours of the bite.
While retainers are worn during the day for a similar purpose, they are typically made entirely of plastic that cannot provide much protection for the molars or other back teeth. Night guards are often recommended for patients who clench or grind their jaw at night because this can cause irreversible damage to the teeth and jaw if left untreated.
Most patients notice immediate relief from their symptoms and report that they no longer wake up with headaches or sore jaws in the morning. Over time, the night guard will need to be replaced if it is no longer effective. Many dentists recommend having new impressions taken every three to six months to ensure a proper fit as the mouth changes with age and through orthodontic treatment.
How Do Occlusal Orthotics Work?
An occlusal orthotic is a small device that fits on the top or bottom arch of your teeth to create a better bite alignment and reduce jaw strain. Most devices are made from hard acrylic and are customized to your mouth by a dentist, orthodontist, or prosthodontist.
The most common types of occlusal appliances are night guards and bite splints. Night guards are used to prevent teeth grinding while you sleep, while a bite splint is used to align the lower and upper arches of your teeth. There are some cases where a bite splint is used instead of braces to straighten someone’s smile.
Like braces and other orthodontic devices, occlusal orthotics are usually worn all the time except when eating and cleaning the device. They usually need to be adjusted every few months to keep up with changes in your oral tissues and to make sure they’re working effectively.
When Do I Need an Occlusal Orthotic?
There are two main purposes for an occlusal orthotic: to protect the teeth and to keep the jaws in place. An occlusal orthotic can protect the teeth by distributing the force of clenching evenly over the biting surfaces. This even distribution of force prevents excessive wear on just one side, protecting your teeth from becoming worn down over time.
Additionally, an occlusal orthotic can keep the jaws in place so that your upper and lower jaws function properly. If the jaws are out of place, it can cause an uneven distribution of chewing forces resulting in tooth sensitivity or even tooth loss. If an occlusal orthotic is used, it can prevent uneven force distribution and help increase comfort when chewing.
For more information, contact our Alexandria dental office at (703) 823-2848 or 5130 Duke St, Suite 8, Alexandria, VA 22304, or our Manassas dental office at (703) 479-7654 or 8608 Centreville Rd, Manassas, VA 20110.