What is a Bite Splint?
A bite splint is a dental appliance typically made out of acrylic that covers the teeth on one arch and can be made to manage a number of different dental conditions. Bite splints can be made out of hard or soft dental acrylics. The design of any particular bite splint depends on the patient’s tooth condition and bite, as well as the desired outcome. Bite splints can go by a number of different names depending on the application, including bite splint or occlusal splint.
When Are Bite Splints Used?
Temporomandibular Joint Disorders
Often referred to as simply TMJ, temporomandibular joint disorder is not one specific condition but rather a group of conditions of the jaw joint and chewing muscles.
Some symptoms which are often experienced by patients with TMJ may include pain to chewing in the teeth or jaws, joint sounds such as clicking or popping, inability to open the mouth very wide, difficulty in chewing hard foods, or a change in the bite where the teeth do not line up as they once did.
Bite splints are often used as a first line step in diagnosing and managing the symptoms of these conditions.
Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)
Bruxism is the medical condition that refers to excessive and unnatural teeth grinding, oftentimes at night. Though patients who grind their teeth may sometimes experience tooth or jaw soreness, there are often no experienced symptoms at all other than the slow and continued wear of teeth and dental restorations. Many patients are not aware at all that they grind their teeth.
Excessive teeth grinding can put added force on the jaw joint or muscles, leading to TMJ disorders described above. It can also be a sign of other conditions such as sleep apnea. Bruxism is very common, with some reports showing that up to one-third of the population shows signs of teeth grinding.
Bite splints are an excellent way to cover and protect the teeth to prevent further wear and breakdown of the teeth. Furthermore, by correctly positioning the teeth and jaws, bite splints can help prevent the development of TMJ.
Teeth clenching is another common finding in patients. Teeth clenching often does not lead to the same amount of tooth wear as bruxism, but puts added force on the jaw joint and muscles and can lead to TMJ symptoms.
Teeth clenching can often be found in patients suffering from stress. Bite splints can help reduce the forces of clenching to protect the teeth and jaws.
Periodontal (Gum) Disease
Bite splints are often used in patients who have periodontal (gum) disease to help reinforce the teeth. Since periodontally involved teeth do not have as much bone or gum support, they are especially susceptible to clenching or grinding forces.
Diagnostic Measure to Find the Source of Pain and Diagnose TMJ
An often under appreciated indication for bite splints are as a diagnostic aid in patients with certain TMJ disorders or unknown source of mouth or jaw pain. By allowing the jaw joint to rest in its most comfortable position and by removing grinding as a source of pain, bite splints are very useful for confirming or ruling out certain sources of pain. In this way, bite splints can often be both the method for diagnosing and for treating the associated pain.
What are the Benefits of Bite Splint Therapy?
Benefits of bite splint therapy include:
- Protection of teeth and dental restorations from wear or breakage
- Reducing biting forces on dental implants
- Relief of certain types of muscle or joint pain
- Prevent unwanted movement or shifting of teeth
- Increased comfort
How Do Bite Splints Work?
Bite splints can be designed in a number of different ways and can be made to fit either the upper or lower arch, depending on the condition the splint is being used to treat. Most bite splints do share a few things in common however. They are made to allow the jaw joint to relax into its most natural and comfortable position. In dentistry, we call this the centric relation position.
By building the splint to allow the jaw to settle to this position, strain is taken off the muscles and ligaments that support the temporomandibular joint. For patients who grind their teeth, having the splint material covering the tops of the teeth allows for a protective layer that protects the teeth.
Finally, bite splints link the teeth together so that the spacing and relationship to one another stays constant over time. This helps greatly when bite splints are used as an orthodontic retainer or to splint teeth affected by periodontal (gum) disease.
Are Bite Splints Uncomfortable?
Properly made bite splints can be quite comfortable and relatively thin—much thinner than over-the-counter or athletic mouth guards. Furthermore, Dr. Jah has completed extensive training at the renowned Pankey Institute, where we learned the best techniques and indications for each splint design and how to use this knowledge to benefit our patients.
What are the Benefits of a Custom-Made Bite Splint?
Custom bite splints have a number of advantages when compared with over-the-counter alternatives. They are generally thinner, more comfortable, and have greater chance of success for conditions such as TMJ, teeth grinding, or when used as a diagnostic device.
Over-the-counter bite splints are typically made from a softer material that is made at home by softening in boiling water and then fitting to the teeth. There is evidence that soft splints can actually exacerbate certain conditions.
In patients who grind their teeth, some evidence shows that the grinding tendencies themselves can actually increase by putting soft material between teeth. And since the over-the-counter bite splints do not provide a properly adjusted biting surface, there is evidence that TMJ pain may actually get worse because of incorrect positioning of the jaws.
How is a Custom Bite Splint Made?
Bite splints typically take two a couple of visits to make the bite splint, and then over a period of 3 months, the patient will be seen in about 6 visits over 3 months, to ensure that the bite is stable, while the muscles and the jaw are also stabilizing. This will also allow us to make any adjustments that may need to be made to increase patient comfort. The benefit of the bite splint is that we can resurface if the bite splint is worn, or if any treatment is done on teeth, it can be refitted.
Are you interested in a custom bite splint? Call our dental office located in Greensboro, NC! We are happy to help you.