Most people with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems may have mild and periodic symptoms. Their pain and discomfort tend to go away with some simple home care, including eating soft foods, doing some muscle exercises, or avoiding extreme jaw movements. Mouthguards are also a treatment method that your dentist can prescribe to ease your TMJ pain. In this article, we will discuss how wearing a mouthguard can be helpful for TMJ disorders, what types are there, and give you clear answers to other questions you may have.

What is TMJ?

TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. This is the joint on each side of your head that functions like a hinge connecting your lower jaw to your skull. TMJ disorder, often called TMD or just TMJ, is a condition that results in pain in the jaw joint, muscles, and face.

It is often difficult to clearly point to the exact cause of TMJ disorder.  In some cases, jaw injury, arthritis, or genetics may cause this condition. Some people who grind their teeth or clench their jaw, the condition known as bruxism, may also be at risk of developing TMJ problems.

How to know if you have TMJ disorder?

The symptoms of TMJ disorders can vary greatly depending on the causes and the severity of the problem. Common symptoms can include: 

  • Jaw pain or tenderness
  • Aching pain in one or both temporomandibular jaw joints
  • Facial pain or pain that extends to ear, shoulders, or neck
  • Jaw locking, clicking, or grating sensation upon chewing or closing or opening the mouth
  • Limited jaw movements and trouble opening or closing your mouth

Do mouthguards help TMJ?

If you are suffering from TMJ disorders, your dentist will likely suggest some lifestyle changes. Wearing a mouthguard is a conservative treatment method that your dentist provides to manage TMD. It has been a common treatment besides eating soft foods, applying ice or heat to relieve inflammation, or doing other self-care to help relieve your TMJ pain.

Your dentist may only recommend surgeries if your case is a severe one, which doesn’t respond to mouthguards or other conservative treatment options. Using mouthguards is a much more affordable and useful way of relief from TMJ for many people. However, you may sometimes need to get down to the root of the problem and fix it permanently with surgeries.

Mouthguards can have certain functions which can be beneficial in resolving the symptoms and discomfort of TMJ. Depending on specific designs, a mouthguard can help:

  • Stop you from teeth grinding or clenching when you sleep which therefore prevents harmful effects on teeth and soft tissues  
  • Stabilize teeth or hold the jaw in place to relax your facial or jaw muscles
  • Reposition your jaw to recapture the displaced joint disc which in turn can reduce your pain

Types of mouthguards for TMJ disorders

When it comes to TMJ mouthguard, your dentist may recommend a few options depending on your specific condition.

Keep in mind that dentists may use other terms instead of a mouthguard. They may call it a dental splint, night guard, bite guard, or occlusal splint.

Watch the video below where a dentist explains more about TMJ and how should a mouthguard work:

Therefore, mouthguards that are made for TMJ pain relief can have different designs. For example, if you are grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw, your mouthguard should protect your teeth while reducing your jaw pain and ease the muscles.

There are different types of mouthguards or splints your dentist may prescribe for TMJ issues:

Stabilization splints

Like its name, this type of guard stabilizes your mouth and teeth in a correct position when your jaw is closed. These mouthguards are designed to cover all of your teeth. They are typically used to prevent the clenching and grinding of your teeth (bruxism).

Stabilization splints, also called permissive splints, prevent harmful contact between the teeth and provide a bite surface that is harmonious for the jaw joints. This allows your jaw muscle to relax and stop them from overworking which help ease your TMJ pain.

Repositioning splints

These guards help move your lower jaw in order to provide a better jaw position or to align the displaced disc. You may need this mouthguard if you have jaw clicking or popping symptoms. These are common signs of disc displacement in the TMJ alignment. You may have to wear the mouthguard all day and night at first.

It is important to know dentists may prescribe this type of guard for short-term periods (e.g., six weeks) only. Prolonged use of them may cause permanent damage to your bite. So, your dentist may switch to other mouthguard types after that specific period or suggest other treatments for long-term solution.

Night guards

All night guards are splints but not vice versa. A night guard is a special type of splint that is intended to keep you from clenching or grinding your teeth at night. So, if you have bruxism and your jaw pain is due to this habitual grinding, a night guard can help protect your teeth as well as the jaw joints and muscles.

Mouthguards for bruxism can be sold over the counter, through dental offices, or online retailers. The OTC night guards available to buy online or at a drugstore include one-size-fits-all stock mouthguards and boil-and-bite mouthguards. These are not a solution for your teeth grinding and can aggravate your TMJ. What you need is a custom-fitted type of guard.

A custom night guard is made professionally by a dentist. You can also order one online through companies that provide custom-fit mouthguards. Custom night guards perfectly match your teeth. This is because they are designed and tailored specifically for your teeth and mouth shape.

How long should I wear a mouthguard for TMJ?

Until your TMJs become stable, TMJ splints (mouthguards) must be worn 24 hours a day except when eating or brushing. After that, your dentist will decide if you need it just days or nights.

Generally, mouthguard treatment for TMJ disorders may take between 6 to 8 weeks. But it can take months or even years depending on how severe your condition is. You will have to wear the mouthguard until all your pain is gone and the jaw joint and bite structures are stable in the correct position.

However, if you are prescribed a night guard, you may only need it to protect your teeth when asleep to prevent teeth grinding from causing harm.


TMJ disorders can result in pain and discomfort in your jaw and face which may extend to the ear or neck. It is highly recommended to talk to your dentist regarding any concerns with TMJ. If not treated, it may get worse and disturb your life.

The good thing is it is a treatable condition which can be addressed with home care in many cases. One of the simplest and least invasive TMJ treatments is wearing a mouthguard.

TMJ mouthguards help relieve your pain by stopping teeth grinding. They also work by adjusting jaw joints and muscles into the proper position. It is also important to clean your mouthguard and follow your dentist’s instructions on how long and when to wear the device so that you help your treatment in the best way.

Frequently asked questions

What type of mouthguard is best for TMJ?

There can be various designs of mouthguards (otherwise called occlusal guards or splints) for TMJ disorders. Your dentist will provide you with the appropriate type to ease your TMJ issues based on the underlying causes. In general, the splint or guard should provide relief from pain, improve jaw function in the joints and muscles, and protect teeth if you have grinding or clenching symptoms.

Should I wear my TMJ mouthguard all day and night?

Splints or mouthguards designed specifically for TMJ should be worn 24 hours a day except when your brush or eat unless your dentist changes the time to just days or nights. Depending on the amount of TMJ remodeling required and the severity of the case, you may wear the occlusal guard for weeks, months, or even years.

Does a mouthguard for TMJ fit on upper or lower teeth?

TMJ mouthguards can be made for upper teeth, lower teeth, or both. They may cover all teeth like stabilization splints or some teeth depending on what they might serve. Your dentist will advise about the right option that relieves your pain and correct your jaw dysfunction.

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