Do you experience frequent headaches, clicking, popping or grating sounds in your jaw joint? Have you ever experience unexplained tooth fractures? Do you have gum recession and or cold sensitivity? Are your front teeth shorter, more worn and discolored than they use to be? All of these issues may actually be related to disharmony in the fit of the upper and lower teeth relative to the temporomandibular joint (jaw joint).
Occlusal splint therapy is a method of determining whether the relationship of your upper teeth to your lower teeth is instrumental in creating tooth, muscle and joint problems. By allowing us to temporarily and reversibly “perfect” your bite, it is both diagnostic and therapeutic in the following ways:
- It provides an environment that allows the jaw muscles to relax and in so doing allows the jaw joint to seat (see “Your Bite-The Foundation of Dental Health) into its physiologic position without interference from the teeth.
- It distributes the forces of your bite evenly thereby eliminating the negative effects of night time grinding on the teeth and bone supporting the teeth.
- It tests whether bite correction will eliminate or reduce night time grinding.
- It allows us to evaluate the intensity and direction of any night time grinding.
- It allows us to evaluate the stability of the jaw joints, whether they are undergoing slow or fast degenerative changes.
- It reveals the true relationship of the lower teeth to the upper teeth when the joints are in their physiologic position.
In patients that are experiencing muscle or joint pain, splint therapy is a process that usually takes several months to complete. An occlusal splint is a retainer-like device (see photo below) fitted to either the lower or upper teeth with the purpose of allowing the jaw joints to seat in their most physiologic position without interference from the teeth. After the splint is delivered, you will be seen at regular intervals (first every other week, then monthly) to assess any changes in your symptoms, your ability to function and to make necessary adjustments to your appliance, medications and/or adjunctive therapies.
Assuming that symptoms subside and the joints are stable, splint therapy usually ends by obtaining study models to assess the true relationship of the teeth to the jaw joints, and what, if any, changes are necessary to correct your bite by moving, reshaping (see equilibration), or restoring your teeth.