What's a Dental Splint and What's it For? - Step To Health

What's a Dental Splint and What's it For?

The uses of a dental splint in dentistry are many. In this article, we'll tell you about the variants of this device and how it improves oral health.
What's a Dental Splint and What's it For?

Last update: 30 October, 2021

Nowadays, the use of a dental splint to treat certain conditions or improve oral health is quite common. It’s a custom-made appliance that is made by the dentist and covers part or all of a person’s teeth.

They’re made of plastic or acrylic resin. The patient can even choose his or her own design and have it colored or printed.

They’re used in a wide variety of ways. Depending on the purpose of the treatment, the characteristics of the attachment vary. In this article, we’ll tell you about the different models of dental splints that help improve oral health.

Types of dental splints

Each dental splint is made specifically for each patient, depending on the objectives of the treatment. Thus, its design varies according to the problems to be treated and corrected.

The following are the most common types of dental splints used in dentistry.

Occlusal, or discharge splint

This is the most popular type of dental splint and, therefore, the best known. It’s used to treat cases of bruxism or tooth clenching.

Nowadays, there’s a high incidence of this disorder which consists of clenching or grinding the teeth. Most of the time this habit happens unconsciously, and can occur during the day or at night when sleeping.

Bruxism causes wear of the tooth surfaces, as the force of the contact made eliminates the tissue of the teeth. It also causes headaches, earaches, and pain in the jaw, neck, and chewing muscles.

By placing a dental discharge splint, the excessive rubbing and biting of the upper and lower teeth is prevented. In this way, the appliance acts as an attachment that interferes with occlusion and prevents the discomfort caused by bruxism.

Occlusion splints are made on a mold of the patient and are made rigid and hard to resist wear and tear. Their function is to relax the muscles and temporomandibular joints. In this way, clenching is avoided.

In general, they’re used for cases of nocturnal bruxism, being a comfort for the patient who uses them when sleeping. But they’re also indicated for use during the day in specific situations of high stress and anxiety.

Férula para bruxismo.
Splints for bruxism are the best known in the dental field.

Dental whitening splint

The dental whitening splint is an attachment used during aesthetic treatments that lighten the color of the teeth. The dentist makes them to measure and instructs the patient on the use of the product on an outpatient basis.

It’s a plastic splint, made specifically for each patient. The whitening agent is placed inside the dental splint and the person puts it on at home, ensuring the contact of the substance with the teeth.

The product is left to act for the time indicated by the dentist and then easily removed. After sanitizing, it’s stored until the next application of the whitening agent.

As this is an outpatient method, several days of exposure to the product are usually necessary. In general, they’re used a few hours per day, for 15 days, although the dentist will inform each patient about the time and duration of treatment, according to their particular needs.

Retention splints

Retention splints are those that are used at the end of orthodontic treatment. Their function is to maintain the dental position achieved during treatment and prevent the teeth from returning to their initial position.

It’s common for the teeth to seek the position they had before orthodontic treatment. Because of this, it’s necessary to use a dental retention splint that helps the teeth not to move and to get used to their new situation.

Its use is of utmost importance, and is considered a vital part of orthodontic treatment. In fact, all that has been achieved up to that point may be in vain if this stage is omitted.

There are two types of retention following orthodontic treatment:

  • Fixed retention splints: These are wires or archwires that are adhered to the tooth surface with a composite. They’re placed on the inner sides of the teeth to prevent them from being seen, which is why they’re very popular with patients, although they can store bacterial plaque.
  • Removable retention splints: These are used in cases where there isn’t enough space to place a fixed splint and the patient’s own bite would remove it, and also in cases where the dentist considers it more appropriate. They’re rigid and are made personally for each patient. The orthodontist will indicate the recommended time of use.

More important information here: What to Do In Case of Dental Trauma?

Stabilization splints

Stabilization splints are used in cases where a patient has suffered trauma to the mouth. When the blow causes luxation, avulsion or fracture of the dental element, it’s necessary to immobilize it for a period of time with this type of appliance. See the article above for more information about dental trauma.

Its design is similar to the fixed retention splints used in orthodontics. They consist of a wire that’s attached to the elements with a resin.

They’re placed where needed, because here we aren’t looking for aesthetics, but, rather, to prevent the traumatized tooth from moving. By immobilizing the tooth, the tissues can recover from the trauma. In this case, the dental splint acts like a plaster cast on a fractured bone.

The time you’ll need to wear the splint will vary according to the injury, ranging from 15 days to 3 months. Periodic check-ups will be necessary to assess the evolution of the recovery process.

Periodontal splint

Periodontal splints are used in patients who suffer from advanced periodontitis and who have lost a significant amount of bone. This problem affects the mobility of the teeth, generating discomfort and even pain.

This type of dental splint is similar to the previous one, and consists of a wire that is glued to the teeth to immobilize them. In these cases, the dentist will try to make it aesthetically pleasing and, above all, as hygienic as possible. Bacterial plaque and tartar are the main causes of periodontitis, so we must avoid the accumulation that would worsen the condition.

Beyond the placement of the splint that reduces tooth mobility, it’s necessary to perform a periodontal treatment that solves the source of the problem. The usage time of these attachments will depend on each case.

Invisible orthodontic splints

The transformation of orthodontics today allows almost the same treatment carried out with traditional methods, but using splints. Therapeutics such as Invisalign, for example, use these transparent attachments to correct dental malpositions and bite problems.

It consists of several sets of transparent splints (also known as invisible or clear alligners) that are changed as the treatment progresses. The patient can put on and take off the appliance by themselves, offering aesthetics and comfort.

The orthodontic splints are made for each individual patient and are designed specifically to achieve the desired dental movements. The monitoring of the treatment by the dentist is vital, as is responsible use, if you want to achieve the desired success.

Read more about this topic here: 8 Care Tips for People with Orthodontics

Other types of dental splints

Other dental procedures sometimes also warrant the use of a dental splint. Here are some of them:

  • Surgical splint: Used after surgery to prevent tooth movement and facilitate recovery.
  • Radiological splints: These are used as a diagnostic reference that provides valuable information before surgery to place implants.
  • Surgical guide: These are designed and made after a thorough analysis of the patient’s anatomical structure, in order to enable the precise placement of implants during surgery.
  • Mouthguards: These are flexible splints that protect the teeth during high-impact sports such as boxing, hockey, rugby, or skateboarding, among others. They’re able to absorb shocks and protect teeth from trauma or fractures.
Protector bucal para boxeo.
Mouthguards for sports are splints as well, this time with a preventive use.

How is a dental splint made?

The way to make a dental splint will depend on the type of attachment required and the objectives. Because of this, there are different methods:

From models of the patient

Each person has different anatomical characteristics and a unique and particular way of biting. These details must be taken into account when making a dental splint that covers the teeth, such as those used to treat bruxism or for whitening.

To respect the patient’s own characteristics, it’s necessary to obtain a record of the dental arches. To do this, impressions are taken with a flexible material, such as alginate, and then plaster models are made.

These models are sent to the dental laboratory with the pertinent indications for the case so that the mechanic can make the splint. Once the appliance is ready, it’s tested in the patient’s mouth and the necessary adjustments are made.

With 3D printing

A more technological and avant-garde way to make a dental splint is by using 3D printing. To do this, a digital scan of the patient’s mouth is made and, using the image obtained, the device is designed on a computer. Then, the appliance is printed with the chosen material and is tested and adjusted in the patient’s mouth.

With orthodontic wires

To make the splints that immobilize teeth, a piece of orthodontic wire is used. It should cover the teeth to be immobilized and, if the case requires it, also the neighboring teeth, in order to give greater support.

The wire is placed on the surfaces of the teeth to be fixed, which can be on the external or internal side, depending on the needs of the case. Small amounts of resin are placed on the wire and hardened with a special light to hold it in place.

Aspects to keep in mind about dental splints

Dental splints should be made by a dentist specifically for each patient’s mouth. In addition, it’s advisable to consider these tips on their use and care:

  • As it’s a foreign body in the mouth, it will require a period of adaptation. At first, it’s normal for the flow of saliva to increase, and for the patient to feel some discomfort.
  • Toothbrushing should be meticulous, especially to avoid the accumulation of bacteria when wearing rigid splints. In the case of removable appliances, teeth should be cleaned before the appliance is placed and again when it’s removed.
  • When the splint is removed from the mouth, it should be rinsed with water under running tap water and cleaned with a small brush and soap. In addition, it’s advisable to use an effervescent denture tablet once a week to remove stubborn residue.
  • Before placing the splint in the mouth, it’s advisable to rinse it with water.
  • Don’t eat or drink with the appliance in place.
  • Removable splints should be stored in a clean case with a lid when not in use. In this way, they’ll always be protected and kept in the same place, preventing breakage or misplacement.
  • Before storing the splint in its case, you’ll need to wash it and dry it very well with absorbent paper. Humidity can favor the proliferation of bacteria and fungus on the appliance.
  • It’s essential to attend the dental check-ups indicated by the professional. Adjustments or wear and tear are often necessary to ensure the proper functioning of the appliance.
  • The splint should be used for the time indicated by the professional, no more and no less, as it could be harmful or ineffective.
  • Contact with heat sources or washing with hot water should be avoided, as they can become deformed.

Commit to treatment

As you’ve seen, a dental splint can be used to treat many dental conditions. You should always use them according to your dentist’s instructions and recommendations. The success of the treatment depends on the patient’s perseverance and responsibility.

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