Sleep Apnea and its Connection to TMJ Disorders

Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that affects millions of people worldwide, and it can have a significant impact on overall health and quality of life. But sleep apnea doesn’t always show up on its own. It can also come with other disorders including TMJ disorders.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common condition where you’re breathing stops and restarts while you’re asleep. As you might expect, this stops oxygen from getting to the body and can be quite dangerous.

There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive and central

Obstructive sleep apnea happens when your airway is blocked multiple times while you sleep. This is the most common type of sleep apnea. Anything from obesity to large tonsils can obstruct your airway and increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea

Central sleep apnea occurs when your brain does not send the signals to the body that are needed to breathe. Any health conditions that affect how your brain controls your airway and chest muscles can lead to central sleep apnea.

What is TMJ Disorder?

TMJ disorders (temporomandibular joint disorders) cause pain in your jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement.

What the exact cause is can be difficult to figure out but it can be a combination of genetics, arthritis, or a jaw injury. You may grind or clench your teeth and that can develop into a TMJ disorder. But not always.

In most cases, the pain that comes with TMJ disorders is temporary but if it persists, surgery may be necessary.

The Connection Between Sleep Apnea and TMJ

Researchers have found that many people with TMJ disorder also struggle with sleep apnea and other sleep disorders as well. Why is this the case? It often has to do with the airway.

When your airway collapses due to sleep apnea, it causes the brain to tell the body to push the lower jaw forward to open that airway and let in more oxygen. This motion of the jaw throughout the night can put tension on the jaw joint and increase the risk of TMJ disorder.

Symptoms of TMJ disorder can also become worse with chronic fatigue and when you’re not getting enough sleep or quality sleep due to sleep apnea, fatigue can certainly be an issue.

The airway is connected to how your jaw is positioned and your jaw’s position is linked to how much air is getting in so it makes sense how closely these two conditions are connected.

Treatment for TMJ Disorders and Sleep Apnea

Fortunately, there are quite a few treatment options for those struggling with sleep apnea and TMJ disorders. Some of the most common treatments for TMJ disorders include mouthguards, mandibular repositioning devices, tongue retaining devices, muscle relaxers, corticosteroid injections for pain and Botox injections to relax the muscles, and even counseling to get to what is causing the jaw-clenching.

These devices can also open the airway and help with sleep apnea as well.

But if they don’t or if more treatment is needed, there are a number of ways to treat sleep apnea. Some of them include the use of CPAP, auto-CPAP, or BPAP machines. Nasal dilators that open up the nose to promote nasal breathing can also be helpful.

Surgery can be an option for both TMJ disorders and sleep apnea, but only when all other options have failed to produce results.

Getting some form of treatment is necessary as untreated sleep apnea can increase the risk of several health conditions including heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.

Schedule A Consultation

Are you having issues with your jaw or feel like you’re not getting enough sleep? Sleep apnea or TMJ disorder may be the problem. Dr. Wilk at the Denver Sleep Apnea Center is more than happy to help you get some relief.

To schedule an appointment at our Denver, CO office, call us today at (303) 758-4865 or request an appointment using our online form.

View All