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The Curious Connection Between Sleep Apnea and TMJ Disorders

September 1, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — ljadam @ 6:28 pm
Woman struggling to sleep because of her sleep apnea and TMJ pain.

Every night, millions of people miss out on countless hours of sleep because of sleep apnea; and even worse, many more cases go completely undiagnosed! That said, sleep apnea is a pretty widespread problem—but did you know that it can affect more than just the quality of your rest? In fact, sleep apnea has actually been closely linked to TMJ disorders (TMD) and issues that can cause jaw pain. Keep reading to learn more about this connection and some ways that you can address both sides of it.

The Link Between Sleep Apnea and TMJ Disorders

To better understand the connection between these conditions, it’s best to know how each affects your body, respectively. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of sleep apnea, and it’s characterized by the blockage of the airway during sleep. This causes your body to stop breathing periodically throughout the night. When this happens, you must partially wake up to restore your breathing patterns.

On the other hand, TMJ disorders affect the temporomandibular joints, which are responsible for connecting your jaw to your skull and enabling an impressive range of motion. TMJ disorders often include pain (both jaw pain and headaches), clicking or popping sounds, and sore facial muscles. Bruxism (grinding and clenching your teeth) can also make this condition worse.

These two conditions share a very interesting connection; in fact, one study found that about 43% of people with TMD also have problems with sleeping. When the airway collapses as it does with OSA, the body’s automatic response is to push the lower jaw forward to open up the airway. This constant motion throughout the night can cause a lot of stress and tension in the jaw joints. Additionally, it’s possible for the jaw’s physical position to be misaligned, which prevents your airway from staying fully open while you’re asleep. Given how connected your airway is to the position of your jaw, the connection between sleep apnea and TMD is quite evident.

Addressing Sleep Apnea and TMJ Disorders

Fortunately, this close connection also means that both conditions can be addressed through similar means. Oral appliance therapy can be effectively used to treat both conditions; custom-fitted devices are worn at night that work to reposition the lower jaw so that your airway remains open. This will lessen the need for your body to wake up to restore breathing, and it also greatly reduces the strain on your TMJ.

Additionally, taking steps to manage one condition will ultimately assist with the other. That said, some other possible treatments for TMD outside of oral appliance therapy include medication such as muscle relaxers or anti-inflammatories, massages and stretching exercises, and more. And as far as managing sleep apnea goes, CPAP machines, nightguards, and even eliminating external sources of sleep disruption can all prove useful.

Sleep apnea isn’t something you have to live with; and given the serious consequences it can lead to, it’s in your best interest to seek treatment. That said, managing your TMJ disorder can also play an integral role in getting quality sleep again. If you’re curious about receiving treatment for your sleep apnea and TMJ disorder, don’t hesitate to speak with your dentist.

About the Author

Dr. Lawrence J. Adam has proudly served patients and families in the Worthington, PA area for over 15 years. Dr. Adam received his dental doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine and is an active member of several professional organizations including the American Dental Association and the renowned Academy of General Dentistry. His practice is pleased to offer sleep apnea therapy. If you have any questions about sleep apnea or would like to schedule a visit, you can contact Dr. Adam through his practice’s website or over the phone: (724) 297-3446.

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