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Do You Know the Connection Between TMJ and Sleep Apnea?

March 3, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — dolfielddental @ 12:59 pm
Woman in bed holding jaw in pain

Do you realize that your throat, jaw, and brain are all connected as part of a complex system? When something goes wrong in one area, it can have a negative impact elsewhere. For example, researchers have recently linked sleep apnea with TMJ disorder. Both of these conditions can cause serious pain and discomfort, but fortunately, they are both treatable. Keep reading to learn more about the relationship between the TMJ and sleep apnea in Owings Mills, and how your dentist can help.  

What Is Temporomandibular Disorder?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the point where the jaw connects with the upper skull. This unique joint guides the jaw movements that allow you to eat, speak, and even yawn comfortably.

TMD stands for temporomandibular joint disorder and is an umbrella term for various issues that cause TMJ pain. People with TMD often experience difficulty chewing, a clicking sound when opening or closing their mouth, and persistent headaches, among other uncomfortable symptoms.

TMD can be caused by stress, grinding teeth, poor posture, bite misalignment, and several other factors.  

What Is Sleep Apnea?

A person with sleep apnea experiences repeated interruptions of breathing while they rest. These brief disturbances, which last for 10 seconds or longer, can occur dozens or even hundreds of times each night. Obstructive sleep apnea, which is the most common form, occurs when a person’s neck tissue relaxes and blocks airflow. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.

Common sleep apnea symptoms include:

  • Snoring
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Waking up with a dry mouth
  • Waking up gasping for breath
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Trouble concentrating at work
  • Insomnia
  • Weight gain
  • Depression or anxiety

TMD & Sleep Apnea

A recent study found that over 40% of people with TMD also have problems sleeping. So that’s the link between the two? Researchers believe when a person’s airway becomes blocked (as it does with obstructive sleep apnea), the body’s automatic response is to push the lower jaw forward to reopen the airway. This constant motion of the jaw throughout the night can cause extra stress and put tension on the TMJ. Another theory is that if a person’s jaw is naturally misaligned, its awkward position can both block their airway at night and cause jaw pain.

How to Treat TMD & Sleep Apnea

Neither sleep apnea nor TMJ trouble typically goes away on their own. The good news, however, is that your dentist can likely treat both at once! The trick – that is, the treatment – is called oral appliance therapy.  

An oral appliance is a small, custom mouthpiece worn at night to reposition the jaw. The device addresses sleep apnea by preventing your airway from becoming blocked. At the same time, wearing an oral appliance allows your jaw to rest, relieving any pressure that has been contributing to TMD.

Both sleep apnea and TMJ issues can have a major negative impact on your quality of life. If you experience constant jaw pain or are having trouble sleeping, don’t hesitate to contact your dentist today!

About the Author

Dr. Jacob Milner crafts custom oral appliances to help his patients overcome TMJ pain and obstructive sleep apnea. The proud University of Maryland School of Dentistry graduate has completed advanced training in dental sleep medicine. To learn more about the TMJ and sleep apnea in Owings Mills, visit the Dolfield Dental website or call 410-902-4110.

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