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Can Sleep Apnea Cause TMJ?

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Can Sleep Apnea Cause TMJ?

Good quality sleep is essential for overall well-being. Sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea can lead to daytime fatigue and increased risk for more serious problems, such as high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke. 

Surprisingly, oral health is linked to sleep apnea. Facial pain, stiffness in the jaw upon waking, and grinding teeth at night, which leads to waking up abruptly, indicate a TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder.

Your dentist can recommend dental sleep therapy as a solution for sleep apnea and reduce symptoms of TMJ. Let’s look at sleep apnea and TMJ to understand how they relate. 

What is Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that occurs while you sleep. When the airway muscles relax, they pinch the airways and breathing stops for at least 10 seconds.  

The stop and start breathing take place repeatedly while you sleep. Some people wake up gasping for air, though they may not remember doing so. 

Common Signs & Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Symptoms are not always evident to the person experiencing them. Sometimes a partner may bring it to your attention. These are common signs and symptoms:

  • Snoring, louder than regular snoring
  • Daytime tiredness
  • Nighttime waking and restlessness
  • Dry mouth or sore throat in the morning
  • Waking up from gasping for air
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty in focusing
  • Irritability

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are three types of sleep apnea:

  1. Obstructive sleep apnea: is the most common type. It occurs when the throat muscles relax and collapse, causing a partial or complete blockage of the airways. 
  2. Central sleep apnea: the airways are not blocked, but rather the brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles to breathe. 
  3. Complex sleep apnea: also called treatment-emergent-central sleep apnea, is when you have obstructive and central sleep apnea. 

Risk for Developing Sleep Apnea

Anyone can get sleep apnea, including children, but you are more at risk if you:

  • Are overweight
  • Have a thicker neck circumference with narrower airways
  • Have a family history of sleep apnea
  • Smoke
  • Have nasal congestion
  • Are older

What is TMD?

TMD are disorders related to the jaw and affect 20–30% of the population. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is like a hinge that connects the lower jaw to the skull. Found in front of each ear, the joint allows you to open and close your jaw when you eat, talk, or yawn. 

Causes of TMD include:

  • Injury to the jaw or joint
  • Grinding of teeth
  • Clenching of teeth
  • Arthritis
  • Stress that leads to tight facial and jaw muscles

Common Signs & Symptoms of TMD

TMD causes pain and discomfort in the jaw and face. It can affect one side or both sides of the face. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Tenderness around the face, jaw joints, neck, and shoulders
  • Pain around the ears when you eat, speak, or yawn
  • Jaws lock in an open or closed mouth positions
  • Clicking and popping sounds when you open and close the mouth
  • Grinding and wearing down of teeth
  • Headaches
  • An uncomfortable bite from a shift on the jaw
A young woman grimacing and holding the left side of her face during a TMJ flareup.

How Does Sleep Apnea Cause TMD?

A study showed a significantly higher TMD incidence in sleep apnea patients compared to the control. In obstructive sleep apnea, when the airways collapse, the body’s natural response pushes the lower jaw forward to open the airway. 

The constant motion, back and forth, jaw muscles contracting, and clenching all lead to stress and pain in the jaw joint, leading to TMD. If sleep apnea is left untreated, it can contribute to TMD worsening. 

Treatment for Sleep Apnea and TMD

Treatment involves understanding both sleep apnea and TMD and the connection between them. Mild cases of sleep apnea may include lifestyle changes, such as weight loss or quitting smoking. 

Treatments to help keep the airways open and reduce strain on the jaw includes:

Your Solution to Sleepless Nights

It would seem that sleep apnea and TMD are unrelated conditions. However, if you experience sleep issues and pain or discomfort in the jaw, know that they are successfully treatable. 

Book an appointment with Symmetry Dental & Calgary Sleep Apnea Clinic to address any concerns or symptoms. An accurate diagnosis and customized treatment options are the first steps in ensuring restful sleep. 

Dr. Saleema Adatia

Written by Dr. Saleema Adatia

Dr Adatia did her dental training at Tufts University in Boston MA and graduated in 2006.  Returning to her hometown of Calgary, Dr. Adatia worked as an associate for many years before starting Symmetry Dental.  

Dr. Adatia has focused her clinical practice to the dental management of snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. She has completed extensive training in dental sleep therapy, including a residency at her alma mater, Tufts University, and multiple courses focused on evidence-based education and the medical aspects of sleep related breathing disorders.

Dr. Adatia is a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, which focuses on training dentists on how to provide oral appliance therapy for people who suffer from sleep apnea.  She has also been involved in clinical trials investigating the effectiveness of novel technologies for the treatment of OSA.

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