Nightguards, TMJ Disorders, and Sleep Dentistry

Treat the cause, not the symptom.

Why do people grind?

Grinding is becoming more and more understood as not a problem in itself, but rather a symptom of other issues. Often grinding occurs because of an underdeveloped jaw leading to a small airway, previous retractive orthodontic treatment (such as removing teeth as a teenager so they all fit), muscle imbalances in the face, and joint dislocation issues. In short, grinding should not only be considered something to treat on its own, but rather a sign that something else is off with your body.

Why does someone benefit from a nightguard (splint)?

Dental splints are meant to stabilize a person’s joint while sleeping. Although it may be beneficial to wear more often, nighttime use is the most convenient. Like people who occasionally wear knee braces, it can offer some help in making a patient’s joint and muscles more comfortable.

I have TMJ issues. How is this considered a sleep disorder, especially when I notice symptoms during the day?

Many people first complain about TMJ pain before realizing it’s a sleep-quality issue. Often, people don’t realize there is a connection. In someone with a sleep disorder, the lower jaw will relax and fall back during the night, which can partially or completely close off the airway. In many situations, this narrowing of the airway causes people to clench or grind their jaw forward. Therefore, grinding is sometimes considered an airway protective mechanism. If the source of the issue is treated, often the grinding subsides without a nightguard.

What other symptoms may be evidence of sleep-related disorders?

People who deal with grinding often also show:

  • Asthma and allergies
  • Heartburn, GERD, and acid reflux
  • Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
  • Loud snoring
  • Deviation in the nasal septum

What about temporomandibular join disorder and grinding?

Symptoms of TMJ disorder include clenching, grinding, clicking, or popping of the jaw, dislocation, jaw locking, jaw or ear pain, dizziness, tinnitus, frequent headaches, and neck aches, or difficult/painful chewing or opening.

Choices for TMJ disorder treatment are overwhelmingly varied – it is an infamously difficult and unpredictable issue to treat. There are nightguards, occlusal equilibration, Botox injections, several types of medications, chiropractic or physical therapy, acupuncture, and several types of TMJ surgeries. All of these treatment options focus on the symptom of grinding but not the cause of the TMJ disorder.

Is there anything else that can be done about this problem besides wearing a dental splint/nightguard?

Absolutely. If you would like to learn what can be done to improve the relationship between your teeth and your jaw joint, please ask us. Usually, the treatment to correct this issue requires some orthodontics (clear aligners to change the position of teeth) so there may be an aesthetic bonus as well. By deciding to correct this problem, you may end up avoiding future dental needs that are much more invasive and expensive.

How do clear aligners like Invisalign treat TMJ disorders, grinding, and sleep-related issues?

If treated properly with expansion (instead of retractive) techniques, clear aligners can correct an unhealthy bite, allowing full jaw joint seating without a nightly splint. It increases the amount of space for the tongue to rest, decreasing its tendency to fall into the throat while relaxing. Just a few millimeters makes a huge difference! This has been shown to help many patients sleep better and have less pain, tension, and discomfort in their jaw joints.

Have more questions?

We’d love to share more about how something like clear aligner treatment can help you have a better night’s sleep. Please just ask! We love talking about these kinds of things.

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