Doctor studies use of special dental splint as an aid to those suffering from post-traumatic stress

A Columbus oral surgeon has been conducting a case series testing the effectiveness of a special splint he has developed to aid people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr. Donald Moeller said the research study tracking people fitted with his removable intra-oral soft stabilization splint has gotten good results. "We have been pleased," he said.

Moeller is being assisted in his research by psychology students from Auburn University and Columbus State University.

The 66-year-old surgeon is a retired Army Lt. Colonel who served in Vietnam and in Operation Desert Storm. Moeller has a dental degree from the University of California and a medical degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

He first created his splint to try and stop his dental pain. Moeller said he suffered from nightmares at the time. He discovered a connection between the two problems.

"Many of those with PTSD tend to grind and clench their teeth while they sleep and this turns dreams into nightmares," Moeller said. "Using the splint stopped my nightmares."

Since the splint, which resembles a football mouthguard, helped Moeller, he decided to share it with others.

"If you are able to help a friend's pain and don't help, it's a sin," he said.

The doctor said the difference between his splint, which is worn at night, and a mouth guard is its thickness. Each is custom made for a patient after a plaster dental mold is made. This is done following a test for tender spots, known as masticatory muscle trigger points, in the muscles that are involved in chewing and clenching.

"Precision is the difference," he said.

Moeller said the splint is constructed of a standard soft dental thermoplastic.

His research has been written about in the Journal of Special Operations Medicine. Moeller told the Military Medical & Veterans Affairs Forum that although the lab construction of the splint is a relatively simple process, it is necessary for a dentist with a background in craniofacial pain to properly adjust the thickness of the material present between the teeth to ensure treatment success.

He said that with his splint, which is much thicker than a standard night guard, he can significantly reduce not just nightmares but also headaches and sleep interruptions.

Moeller reported that in one group of 44 patients that they followed for at least three months, 32 of the patients said that one or more symptoms were reduced by 75 percent or more, and 12 of the 44 patients indicated that one or more symptoms were reduced by 25 percent to 60 percent.

He added that no side effects or problems, medical or psychological, were reported with the splint use.

The patients had been diagnosed with PTSD by the Veterans Administration or the U.S. Army, and each had reported three nightmares a week, three headaches per week, three sleep interruptions per week and evidence of clenching. In the group, 90 percent had greater than four trigger points. The youngest in the group was 24 years old and the oldest 62.

A conclusion reached by Moeller was that the reduction of headaches and nightmares with the splint seems to lead to an increased quality and quantity of sleep among patients.

More patients, some coming from as far as Atlanta, have become involved in the continuing study, which, besides the effectiveness of the splint, has looked at the prevalence of masticatory muscle tenderness and whether the trigger points can be the reason for headaches and nightmares of people with PTSD.

While he feels confident about what he has seen, Moeller said that "our research will continue."

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