When considering the best mouth guard for jaw clenching, you should know what’s important before making a purchase. The features that make for the best mouth guard for clenching depend on the underlying cause and severity of the clenching. Importantly, the best guard for clenching might be different from the one that’s best for teeth grinding. Here we review the main causes of jaw clenching, the special case of jaw pain with clenching, the different types of mouth guards for clenching, and measures you can take to treat a clenching jaw.
Why Do I Clench My Jaw?
There are multiple causes that can be driving your jaw clenching. Here are some of the more common ones:
- Stress: The relationship between emotional stress, anxiety, and jaw clenching is well-established.
- Medications: Notorious offenders include stimulants (including caffeine) and antidepressant medications (SSRI-class drugs like Zoloft).
- Jaw Injury: Jaw and muscle sprain/strain (JAMSS) occurs with direct jaw trauma, whiplash, prolonged dental procedures, intubation, and many other situations. This can trigger muscle guarding, jaw tension, and clenching.
- TMJ Disorders: The two main types of TMJ disorders are those that involve the joint and those that involve the surrounding muscles. There is a strong association between TMJ disorders and jaw clenching.
- Tension Headaches: There is a close relationship between tension headaches and jaw clenching. The relationship is so intertwined that it is often hard to tell which condition is causing the other.
- Sleep Bruxism: Jaw clenching and teeth grinding while asleep is referred to as “sleep bruxism”. While there may be no symptoms, others experience jaw pain and headache that gradually diminish during the day.
You may have heard the term “bruxism” in your research. Bruxism is defined as a repetitive activation of the jaw muscles, and can include jaw clenching, teeth grinding, and thrusting of the jaw. Bruxism itself is not a disorder, but rather describes a behavior that is a risk factor for oral health consequences.
There is a subtle but important difference between treating teeth grinding and jaw clenching. Teeth grinding treatments focus on protecting the teeth, whereas jaw clenching treatment tries to address jaw muscle tension.
Jaw Clenching Pain
Not all jaw clenching will result in pain, but when it does, you should take it seriously. The jaw muscles open and close thousands of times a day and can generate hundreds of pounds of force. With jaw clenching, the forces on the jaw can be six times greater than the force generated when eating. This can cause strain on the TMJ and surrounding muscles.
“If your jaw clenching is causing symptoms such as jaw pain or headache, it’s important to seek treatment. The most recent studies indicate that acute jaw pain is a key risk factor for developing chronic pain conditions, such as TMJ disorders,” explains Bradley Eli, DMD, MS, an orofacial pain specialist.
Dental Mouth Guards
There are several different types of dental mouth guards or “splints”. Here are some ways to differentiate between them:
- Soft Splints: Soft splints are made of a material that is boiled and formed to the teeth and can be sold over the counter. Soft splints do not balance the forces of the jaw and have been known to make bruxism worse. A recent study reported that 90% of people who used the “boil-and-bite” type soft splint in their trial had incorrectly fashioned the splint on their own, making it improper for clinical use.
- Hard Splints: Hard splints are made of resin or hard plastic and are custom fit to the teeth. Hard splints are custom made using impression material or digital scans and they come in different designs for different purposes.
- Anterior Bite Plane Splints: An anterior bite plane splint is typically made of a firm material (not soft) and it typically is provided for short-term treatment or as a trial splint to learn whether splint therapy is beneficial. The anterior bite plane splint is called a “partial coverage” because it leaves the posterior teeth exposed. The anterior bite design is optimized to reduce jaw clenching because it completely inhibits posterior teeth contact, and by extension, activation of the jaw muscles.
- Full coverage Splints: “Full coverage” splints, sometimes called nightguards, are designed for longer-term use. The primary purpose can be to protect the teeth from grinding or to address a specific TMJ disorder, or to manage obstructive sleep apnea. Some full coverage splint designs allow for contact with the posterior teeth and other full coverage splints “disclude” the teeth to keep the teeth from clenching. A full coverage splint may not address jaw pain or even make it worse if it is not designed appropriately and periodically adjusted by a dentist trained in splint therapy.
- Stabilization vs. Repositioning: Stabilizing splints are those that are meant to stop the destructive forces that occur with teeth grinding. Repositioning splints are designed to change the position of the jaw joint (for instance, when there is joint clicking).
- Permissive vs. Non-permissive: A permissive splint will allow the position of the jaw to glide unimpeded over the biting surface into the most comfortable position. A non-permissive splint will limit the movement of the jaw into a defined relationship. Typically, stabilization splints are permissive and repositioning splints are non-permissive.
- Temporary vs. Long-Term: A temporary splint can be used in situations where jaw clenching is acute, such as with jaw sprain or strain. Often, the pain associated with jaw clenching (muscle hyperactivity) can resolve in 2-4 weeks with proper conservative care and temporary splinting. Long-term splints are full coverage splints and vary by design and choice of material.
The Best Mouth Guard For Jaw Clenching
The best mouthguard for jaw clenching will depend on your underlying condition. In a mechanical sense, an anterior bite guard is the best for jaw clenching because it completely prohibits contact of the posterior teeth. It is also the best for acute pain due to jaw injury because it will be the most efficient at decreasing jaw muscle hyperactivity.
Use of an anterior bite nightguard as a trial, before selecting a full coverage splint, has a diagnostic benefit for you and your dentist. The anterior bite nightguard might be a QuickSplint® device, or a custom-designed device by your dentist. It is also called a deprogrammer by dentists because it reduces muscle memory of clenching behaviors and after short-term wear you and your dentist can determine whether you need a longer-term mouthguard, and if so, what type is most beneficial.
If long term use is anticipated (such as in the case of sleep bruxism), a full coverage guard is the most appropriate choice. Even in this case, a short-term anterior guard can be used if there is any jaw pain involved with the clenching, or, to get a preview of what the nightguard might feel like. If the jaw clenching is related to a problem in the joint, a repositioning splint is an appropriate choice and professional care is recommended.
A temporary custom mouth guard is appropriate in situations where the underlying condition can be addressed in 2-4 weeks. In addition to cases of jaw injury, this includes the time it takes to address emotional stressors, to change medications, or to see a specialist for definitive care. It can also be used as a bridge solution for jaw pain until a long-term guard is fabricated.
The QuickSplint® is a custom anterior bite splint that you can make at home and use on the same day of delivery. It was specifically designed to provide relief from jaw pain and jaw clenching. It is intended for temporary use (2-4 weeks) and is to be worn at night.
Jaw Pain Relief
If your jaw clenching is causing jaw pain or headache, here are some other measures you can take:
- Rest: Try to rest the jaw using practical measures, such as a soft food diet and avoidance of gum or chewy foods. Also refrain from stimulants, such as caffeine.
- Analgesics: Use of OTC pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen will help.
- Hot/Cold therapy: There is ample evidence that heat and ice can help sooth sore jaw muscles and decrease muscle hyperactivity.
The QuickSplint® anterior bite mouth guard is part of the Speed2Treat® Home Healing Kit. It is designed to have everything you need for a multi-modal approach to jaw care. Start your journey towards jaw pain relief today!