A dental splint is an orthodontic device that is used to stabilize loose teeth, protect teeth from damage, and relieve the pain and discomfort caused by temporomandibular disorder (TMD). In many cases, these conditions are related, because patients who grind their teeth (a condition known as bruxism) or clench their jaws often experience TMD. Splints are also sometimes used to treat patients with sleep apnea or snoring problems. Because bruxism, jaw clenching, sleep apnea and snoring typically occur at night, that is when dental splints are usually worn.
Splints are usually constructed of hard acrylic, and designed to fit over the upper or lower teeth. Some dentists create the splints in their offices, while others send specifications to laboratories, indicating precisely how they want the splints manufactured. Once the splints have been produced, the dentist ensures that they conform properly to the patient’s teeth. A dental splint must be customized to meet the needs of the individual.
Depending on the needs of the particular patient, dental splints are used in a number of different ways.
To treat loose teeth, dental splinting involves attaching teeth to one another for stability, which keeps loose teeth from the ongoing movement that can eventually cause them to loosen to the point that they fall out.
Temporomandibular Disorder, Bruxism and Jaw Clenching
For patients who grind their teeth or clench their jaws, either of which can cause TMD, splints are used to protect the teeth during sleep. The splint is worn like a mouth guard. With the splint fitted over the top or bottom teeth, when the patient bites down, the teeth grind into the splint rather than the opposing teeth. This significantly reduces the strain on both the teeth and the jaw.
Dental splints are usually worn for a designated treatment period or used long term during periods of sleep. Patients must be taught to clean and store them properly to ensure their durability, and reduce the risk of mouth infections or injuries.