Splint Appliances: Everything You & Your Patients Need to Know

What are Splint Appliances?

Splint appliances are an increasingly important element of dental treatment plans. The term “splint” may be used to refer to a wide variety of intra-oral appliances. Generally speaking, splints are designed to hold the teeth together, limit or encourage movement, stabilize straightened teeth, or prevent tooth damage and associated pain. The term “mouth guard” is more appropriately used for devices that protect the teeth from external impact, particularly during sports. The most commonly used types of splint appliances are night guards, occlusal splints, aligners, and retainers.

Night Guards & Bite Guards for Bruxism 

Bruxism is the action of grinding teeth and/or clenching the jaw, particularly when asleep (sleep bruxism). Around 13% of people are sleep bruxists, but many are not aware of it until they experience complications such as damaged teeth, headaches, or jaw problems. Night guards can be used to reduce tooth damage, which is most often characterized by cracks or worn-down tooth edges.

The other effect of using a night guard is to relax the jaw, which can help reduce clenching. The night guard type of splint may be constructed to fit over either the upper or lower teeth and may be made from soft or hard material. Patient acceptability is very important in the production of night guards as many people can find wearing a guard challenging. The guard needs to be sufficiently resistant to withstand the forces of grinding and clenching, but it must not be harder than the patient’s tooth enamel.

Materials are now available that meet the required performance levels and are well tolerated. Typically, soft night guards are made from flexible vinyl or silicone material, while hard guards are made from acrylic resin. A combination solution featuring the best of both textures is OrthoDenco’s Hard-Soft Splint. While it is possible to buy night guards off the shelf, these will not fit perfectly and may cause other problems related to tissue damage and teeth movement.

Occlusal Splints for TMJ/TMD, Overbite & Total Mouth Reconstruction

These types of splints are often referred to as orthotic devices. The appliance is designed to guide jaw movement for a specific purpose, most often to relieve pain in people with jaw problems. The prevalence of TMJ, or Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD/TMJD), is estimated at somewhere between 5% and 12%. It is more common in young people, particularly in women of childbearing age. The temporomandibular joints, or jaw joints, connect the lower jawbone (mandible) with the temporal bones of the skull on either side of the head. The jaw muscles controlling these joints allow the jaw to move in three directions: forward/backward, side to side and up/down.

The complexity of this system and its links to many other systems in the body mean that the causes of TMD are poorly understood. However, the main symptoms are facial, neck and jaw pain, jaw stiffness and/or locking, and painful clicking or grating in the jaw joint. Treatment with an occlusal splint is the most common method and will often be designed to produce a change in the bite and jaw position. This is commonly called a stabilization splint.

The National Institutes of Health recommends that splints should only be used to treat TMD for a short time instead of making permanent changes to the patient’s bite. The splint should not cause or increase pain in the jaw.

Invisible Aligners & Clear Braces

Aligners are custom-made splints designed to move teeth into their ideal position gradually. They are typically used to correct uneven or irregular teeth or to close gaps. The aligners are produced as a series of splints, and the patient wears each one for a specific amount of time before progressing to the next one. Once the teeth are aligned into the desired position, a stabilizing splint or retainer can be used to maintain the ideal position.

Traditional Retainers

Teeth that have undergone straightening may be subjected to pressures and forces from the jaw muscles to revert to their previous positions. Retainers are used to encourage the teeth to remain in their new alignment and are particularly important in the early stages after treatment. Long-term maintenance with a nighttime or occasional retainer is generally recommended for maximum benefit. Other types of splint devices include teeth whitening trays, which may also be referred to as bleaching splints.

The importance of custom-made appliances when considering any type of splint should not be overlooked. Any of these devices can potentially change the way in which the jaw system operates in any individual patient. However, in addition to providing pain relief and minimizing damage, splints can be used to obtain information about the patient’s temporomandibular status and support ongoing treatment programs.

If you would like to learn more about clear aligners, 3D printing, or more advancements in orthodontic technology, contact the team at OrthoDenco Digital Orthodontic Laboratory today. With over 35 years of experience and 400 active accounts, we have the experience, leading reputation, and innovative 3D printing equipment necessary to meet all of your dental practice’s needs. We are happy to be your trusted go-to orthodontic lab, so you can be there for your patients.