What you need to know before you get one.
PLUS… your frequently asked splint questions answered!
If you are someone who clenches or grinds their teeth at night while sleeping, or if you experience temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD) or pain in jaw joints, then your dentist or oral health professional may have recommended that you consider wearing an occlusal splint.
This is because an occlusal splint is a dental appliance designed to help protect your teeth from wear and damage caused by involuntary clenching or grinding. But a splint is also designed to help relieve strain and stress on your muscles and your jaw joint, known as the temporomandibular joint or TMJ.
At Dentists at Pymble, we often recommend occlusal splints to our patients as a preventative dental treatment for these two reasons.
So, we decided to write this article to explain more about what and how occlusal splints work and why your oral health professional may have recommended one for you. We will also cover what is involved in getting a splint and what you can expect when you first wear your new splint.
BUT… we thought that we would also take this opportunity to answer some of your frequently asked questions about occlusal splints.
So, let’s talk about occlusal splints!!
What is an occlusal splint?
An occlusal splint is a custom-made and removable dental appliance.
It is designed to help prevent and protect the teeth,
jaw and muscles from overuse, wear and damage.
It is a device that is often designed to be worn while you sleep.
An occlusal splint can also be called or referred to as a dental splint, a bite splint or a night guard.
What are the benefits of a splint?
An occlusal splint aims to help protect your teeth and their supporting structures, from damage which can be caused by clenching and/or grinding of the teeth, a condition known as bruxing.
Bruxing is an involuntary habit that often people do while they are sleeping. And often people do not even realise that they do it!
However, when we clench and grind our teeth together, it can cause significant and irreversible damage to the teeth and their supporting structures. As bruxing puts the teeth under immense stress and force.
Bruxing though, can also put excessive strain and cause the overuse of muscles, which can become uncomfortable and painful. It can also lead to other issues and disorders relating to the temporomandibular joint.
So, a dental splint is designed to help protect your teeth, jaw and muscles from damage, overuse and strain which can be caused by bruxing.
BUT… a splint can also be recommended and be beneficial for people who have a history of pain or dysfunction related to their bite (occlusion) or their temporomandibular joint.
This is because an occlusal splint helps to open the jaw, creating increased vertical height, which helps to put the jaw in a more neutral or resting position. The splint also helps to guide the jaw as it moves. This again helps to reduce strain on the muscles and prevents the jaw joints from being overloaded.
So, there are a few reasons why your oral health professional may recommend a splint to you.
How do you know if you need a dental splint?
Your oral health professional is often the first person to notice, or mention to you, that you may need to consider a dental splint.
For example, when you come in for your routine dental check-up, your oral health professional may notice wear to the biting surfaces of your teeth, crack or chips in your teeth, or they may notice marks or indentations on your cheeks and tongue. Often these changes in the mouth, which cannot be related to other causes, can be a sign that you may clench or grind your teeth.
Sometimes though, before you see your oral health professional, you may start to experience symptoms which can indicate that you may need a splint.
These symptoms can include:
- Pain, aching or discomfort in the jaw, muscles or teeth
- Difficulty chewing food
- Limited or difficulty opening your mouth
- Tension headaches
- Increased sensitivity of the teeth.
Based on your symptoms and along with a thorough dental check-up your oral health professional may recommend and talk to you about considering an occlusal splint.
What are occlusal splints made from?
Occlusal splints are mainly made from acrylic.
Most splints are clear, helping to make them discrete when worn.
Are there different types of splints?
There are a few styles or types of splint which can be made.
For example, a splint can be made for your top teeth or for your bottom teeth. They can be made to be hard, soft or semi-soft. And they can be made to cover all of your teeth in the arch or just some of the teeth depending on your mouth and why the splint is being made.
Your oral health professional is the best person to speak to about which style of splint is best suited for you.
How long does it take to get a dental splint made?
Getting a custom-made dental splint usually takes two appointments.
The first appointment is to take moulds (impressions) or scans of your teeth. These are then sent to a dental lab or technician who will make your splint.
Once your splint is made and ready for collection, you can return for your second appointment. At the second appointment we insert your splint and make sure that it fits comfortably. At this appointment we will also talk to you about how-to best care for your new splint!
How long do occlusal splints last?
Putting a time frame on the lifespan of a splint can be difficult.
This is because it depends on how often it is worn, how much you brux (clench or grind your teeth) and how well it is cared for.
At Dentists at Pymble, we find most people will have the same splint for at least 2-3 years before it needs to be replaced.
When should a dental splint be replaced?
There can be a few reasons why you may need to have your splint replaced.
- If the splint no longer fits
- If you have had significant dental treatment done since the splint was made
- If the splint becomes warped, worn, chipped or breaks.
If you are concerned that your splint needs to be replaced, then have it checked by your dental professional.
At Dentists at Pymble, we recommend that you always bring your splint along to your dental appointments, so that we can routinely check it for you.
How much does a dental splint cost?
The cost of a splint can vary. As it depends on the type or style of splint that your oral health professional has recommended. Generally though the cost of splint will start at around $400-500.
Your oral health professional will be able to provide you with an accurate quote before proceeding with treatment.
When are occlusal splints worn?
Dental splints are mainly worn when you are sleeping. As when you are asleep you can involuntary brux and you are unable to stop yourself from doing it.
Some of our patients also choose to wear their splint while they are working or studying. This is because they notice that when they are concentrating, that they also tend to clench or grind!
How do you care for an occlusal splint?
Looking after your occlusal splint is important for getting the most out of it and ensuring it lasts for as long as possible!
At Dentists at Pymble, we recommend that you:
- Always clean your splint with cold water
- Make sure that you clean it before and after wearing it
- Store it in its container when not in use and somewhere safe.
Your oral health professional will give you more instructions on how to best care for your splint when they give it to you. As it will depend on the type and material used to make your splint.
At Dentists at Pymble, we find that one of the main reasons why people need their splint replaced is because the dog or cat ate it!! So, please be mindful of where you keep it when not in use.
Are dental splints comfortable to wear?
The first time you wear your splint it may feel unusual, bulky or strange. However, at Dentists at Pymble, we find that most people adjust to it pretty quickly.
Often patients even comment that after a few weeks of wearing their splint, that they can’t sleep without it!
Also, it isn’t uncommon that the first few nights when you start wearing your splint that you wake up to find it no longer in your mouth! Sometimes you may subconsciously take your splint out during the night… and as you can probably imagine, searching for a clear acrylic object amongst your bedsheets isn’t fun. But give it time and you will find you will stop doing this!
Another comment that we sometimes get from patients, is that they feel like their new splint makes them salivate more. This can occur initially, but generally stops after a few nights of wearing it, so don’t worry!
Why does my splint feel tight?
An occlusal splint is designed to fit snuggly to your teeth. This helps to prevent it from falling out and ensuring that it stays on your teeth.
The first time that you wear your splint it may have that “tight” feeling. After a few minutes that feeling generally should start to disappear.
When your oral health professional inserts and issues you with your new splint they will check it to ensure it fits well. If you notice that it does feel too tight in certain areas or is uncomfortable, make sure you let them know.
If that “tight” feeling doesn’t disappear, or if the splint ever starts to cause you pain, then stop wearing the splint and make an appointment with your oral health professional to have your splint reviewed.
Do I have to wear my dental splint every night?
Your dentist or oral health professional will let you know how often and for how long you need to wear your splint for. This is because it will depend on your history, your symptoms and why the splint has been recommended for you.
Does a splint stop you from clenching and grinding?
A splint will not necessarily stop you from bruxing. It does however help to guide the jaw, to relieve or reduce strain on the muscles and jaw joints. It will also help to absorb the forces on the teeth caused by bruxing, as it acts as a barrier between your teeth.
At Dentists at Pymble, we often find that when people bring their splint in, we can see signs of where they are grinding and clenching on their splint, as there are wear marks on it!
I haven’t worn my splint for a while and now it doesn’t fit, what do I do?
If you haven’t worn your splint for a period of time, when you go to wear it again often it will feel tight. This is because our teeth can move slightly.
For some people after wearing the splint, that “tight feeling” will disappear, and the teeth and splint will feel normal again.
If that “tight feeling” does not go away, is causing you pain or you are completely unable to get your splint to fit, then you should return to your dentist to have it checked. Sometimes a simple adjustment is all it needs!
My splint doesn’t fit after my filling, what do I do?
This is not uncommon if you wear a splint and have just had any dental treatment done.
This is because after a filling or crown for example, the shape or height of the teeth can change slightly. However, it isn’t until you go home to wear your splint that you notice because your splint no longer fits correctly.
If this happens do not try to adjust the splint yourself. Instead make an appointment with your oral health professional to have it adjusted to avoid causing damage to your teeth, your bite or to your splint.
Often at Dentists at Pymble, when we know that someone wears a splint, we ask them to bring it along to their dental appointments. Especially if they are having any treatment done. That way we can check afterwards that your splint still fits correctly.
At Dentists at Pymble, we also recommend that you have any dental treatment completed first, before you consider getting your splint made.
Why does my dental splint make me gag?
While uncommon, for some people initially when they start wearing their splint it makes them feel as though they are going to gag… which is a horrible feeling!
If you are someone who experiences this, at Dentists at Pymble, we recommend that you remain calm! Try to relax and take a deep breath through your nose. Try to wait a few minutes, as sometimes the feeling may pass.
It can also help to try and practise wearing the splint for a short period of time and then removing it. As slowly your mouth may start to learn to tolerate the splint.
If you still cannot tolerate the splint and it continues to make you feel as though you are going to gag or be sick, then it is best to speak to your dental professional who made the splint for you.
Are chemists and over the counter night guards and splints okay to use?
While often being a cheaper option, unfortunately at Dentists at Pymble, we do not recommend that you buy or use premade splints without consulting with a registered dental health professional first. This is because they may not be what you need and they could cause damage or tooth movement, as they have not been custom fitted to your mouth.
Are there other options?
Not everyone is a candidate for an occlusal splint, or they may not find it effective in managing their symptoms or in some cases it can make symptoms worse.
Other people may also feel that they won’t wear such an appliance or cannot tolerate wearing it.
If this is the case, then you should speak to your oral health professional about other options or alternatives. Because everyone and every mouth is different, getting tailored advice specific to your dental needs is important.
So, to wrap up what we have covered in this article… an occlusal splint is a removable dental appliance designed to help protect your teeth, muscles, and jaw joints.
Your oral health professional may recommend a splint if you clench or grind your teeth while you sleep. You may not notice that you have this habit, but your mouth may show signs that you do, or you may start to have symptoms. A splint can also be recommended for people who have a history of jaw pain or dysfunction.
If you think brux or are experiencing symptoms you should speak directly to your oral health professional about whether a splint is the right treatment option for you.
Oh… and don’t forget if you wear a splint to always bring it to your dental appointments to have it reviewed and regularly checked. And remember that if your splint ever causes you pain, discomfort or problems, then you should stop wearing it and contact your oral health professional.
From all the team at Dentists at Pymble, thank you for reading this article and we hope that it has been helpful.
If you would like more information or have any questions about splints or matters relating to your dental health, then please contact the clinic on 02 9488 7555.
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