Occlusion Splints and Night Guard

Occlusion, in a dental context, means simply the contact between teeth. More technically, it is the relationship between the maxillary (upper) and mandibular (lower) teeth when they approach each other, as occurred during chewing or at rest.

Malocclusion is the misalignment of teeth and jaws, or more simply, a "bad bite". Malocclusion can cause a number of health and dental problems.


Bruxism is the excessive grinding of the teeth and/or excessive clenching of the jaw It is an oral parafunctional habit, it is unrelated to normal function such as eating or talking. Bruxism is a common problem, Bruxism may cause minimal symptoms, and therefore people may not be aware of the condition. Several symptoms are commonly associated with bruxism, including hypersensitive teeth, aching jaw muscles, and headaches. Bruxism may cause tooth wear, and even damage or break teeth and dental restorations such as crowns and fillings.

There are two main types of bruxism: that which occurs during sleep (sleep bruxism) and that which occurs during wakefulness (awake bruxism). Dental damage may be similar in both types, but the symptoms of sleep bruxism tend to be worst on waking and improve during the course of the day, and the symptoms of awake bruxism may not be present at all on waking, and then worsen over the day. The causes of bruxism are not completely understood, but probably involve multiple factors. Awake bruxism is thought to have different causes than sleep bruxism, and is more common in females, whereas males and females are affected in equal proportions by sleep bruxism.

Occlusal splints (also termed dental guards) are commonly prescribed, mainly by dentists, as a treatment for bruxism. Proponents of their use claim many benefits, however when the evidence is critically examined in systematic reviews of the topic. Occlusal splints may be of some benefit in reducing the tooth wear that may accompany bruxism, but by mechanically protecting the teeth rather than reducing the bruxing activity itself. In a minority of cases, sleep bruxism may be made worse by an occlusal splint. Some patients will periodically return with splints with holes worn through them, either because the bruxism is aggravated, or unaffected by the presence of the splint. When tooth-to-tooth contact is possible through the holes in a splint, it is offering no protection against tooth wear and needs to be replaced.

Occlusal splints are divided into partial or full-coverage splints according to whether they fit over some or all of the teeth. They are typically made of plastic and can be hard or soft. A lower appliance can be worn alone, or in combination with an upper appliance. Usually lower splints are better tolerated in people with a sensitive gag reflex. Another problem with wearing a splint can be stimulation of salivary flow, and for this reason some advice to start wearing the splint about 30 mins before going to bed so this does not lead to difficulty falling asleep. As an added measure for hypersensitive teeth in bruxism, desensitizing tooth pastes can be applied initially inside the splint so the material is in contact with the teeth all night. This can be continued until there is only a normal level of sensitivity from the teeth, although it should be remembered that sensitivity to thermal stimuli is also a symptom of pulpitis, and may indicate the presence of tooth decay rather than merely hypersensitive teeth.

Splints may also reduce muscle strain by allowing the upper and lower jaw to move easily with respect to each other. Treatment goals include: constraining the bruxing pattern to avoid damage to the temporomandibular joints; stabilizing the occlusion by minimizing gradual changes to the positions of the teeth, preventing tooth damage and revealing the extent and patterns of bruxism through examination of the markings on the splint's surface. A dental guard is typically worn during every night's sleep on a long-term basis.

Timing: every day 9 am - 8 pm