Sleep Apnea & TMJ Disorders
by Dr. Scott Bolding | Jul. 13, 2021
The Relationship Between Your Jaw & Sleep Apnea
TMJ disorders and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have an interesting relationship. On the one hand, sleep apnea can lead to a TMJ disorder. However, problems with your jaw joint can be the root cause of sleep apnea. In fact, some studies show that at least 75% of TMJ patients also have issues with their airway. And over 50% of patients who have OSA say they deal with jaw pain as well.
Understanding the relationship between your jaw and sleep apnea can be crucial when it comes to offering treatment options. When most patients are diagnosed with OSA, they are almost immediately prescribed a CPAP or oral appliance. These treatment options can be effective for dealing with the symptoms of OSA. However, they don’t always work for everyone. If you’ve failed to see results with a CPAP, issues with your jaw may be the problem. Oral appliances can also cause jaw joint damage, so if you already have a TMJ disorder, using an oral appliance could make it worse.
What is a TMJ Disorder?
TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. This is the jaw that connects your jawbone to your skull. It allows you to open and close your mouth and move it side to side. Like the other joints in your body, the jaw joint is made up of ligaments, tendons, and muscles. It also has a disc that contains synovial fluid, which is crucial for the nutrition and lubrication of the joint.
When there is an issue with any part of the TMJ, it is known as a TMJ disorder (or TMD). If your TMJ is damaged or misaligned, it can cause a lot of pain and make it difficult for you to open your mouth. TMJ disorders can happen for a number of reasons, such as arthritis, injuries, and even stress. A TMJ disorder can also be caused by poor alignment or an underdeveloped jaw.
Sleep Apnea Can Cause Jaw Pain
When your breathing is interrupted while you sleep, your body’s natural response is to push your jaw forward in an attempt to open the airway. Since sleep apnea episodes happen multiple times every night, this repetitive motion puts stress on the jaw joint. Over time, the joint will start to wear down, leading to a TMJ disorder.
The emotional and mental effects of OSA can also lead to jaw joint pain. It’s well-known that good quality sleep is important for emotional and mental health. Not getting enough sleep can lead to stress and anxiety. People who experience stress tend to clench and/or grind their teeth at night, which can cause damage to the jaw joint.
Sleep Better. Get Your Life Back.
It’s time to get the sleep you deserve. You don’t have to keep on living with the constant daytime sleepiness and other effects of sleep apnea. Schedule a consultation with our sleep apnea specialists today and start getting your life back.
How Do We Treat TMJ Pain Caused by Sleep Apnea?
Treating your OSA will, of course, help relieve the stress put on your jaw joint. Treatment plans for mild to moderate sleep apnea often include using a CPAP machine or an oral appliance that keeps the airway open. However, it is important to note that many oral appliances can actually make TMJ pain worse. If you are experiencing jaw pain while using the oral appliance prescribed to you by your doctor or dentist, it’s important to let them know right away so you can avoid damaging the joint more.
Since the jaw joint is similar to the other joints in your body, we can treat it just like the knee or the hip. Over-the-counter pain medication can help relieve mild TMJ pain. We also recommend using ice and heat, as well as eating soft foods, until your jaw starts to feel better. It’s important to give your jaw joint the opportunity to rest when you can.
If the damage done to your jaw joint is more severe, we may need to look into other treatment options, like surgery.
Problems with the Jaw Can Cause Sleep Apnea
Issues with your jaw can also lead to sleep apnea.
In fact, underdeveloped jaws are one of the leading causes of obstructive sleep apnea. An underdeveloped jaw means a smaller airway. A narrow jaw can cause the lower jaw to recede to the back of your throat, which, naturally, constricts the airway. And when you lay down to sleep, the airway is blocked even more, making it hard to breathe. If your jaw is not aligned properly, it can force your tongue to the back of your throat as well.
Damage to your jaw joint because of a TMJ disorder can also lead to sleep apnea. Lack of support from damaged ligaments can cause the lower jaw to fall back as your muscles relax when you sleep. If it falls too far back, it will block your airway.
How Do We Treat Sleep Apnea Caused by Misaligned or Underdeveloped Jaws?
If your sleep apnea is caused by problems with your jaw, you need more than a CPAP machine or oral appliance–especially since an oral appliance can make your jaw problems even worse. Treatment starts with a comprehensive diagnosis. We need to fully examine your airway in order to understand what is causing the obstruction. Then, we can move forward.
The only permanent solution for jaw-related sleep apnea, is a type of surgery called maxillomandibular advancement (MMA surgery). This surgery moves the lower jaw forward, opening up the airway.
MMA surgery is the most effective type of surgery for jaw-related sleep apnea, with a 95% success rate. Patients who go through with the surgery are able to breathe better almost immediately.
Understanding the Root Cause is the Key to a Better Night’s Sleep
Understanding the relationship between your jaw and obstructive sleep apnea is important for making sure you get the treatment you need. Obstructive sleep apnea can cause or be caused by issues with your jaw. If you don’t address the issues in your jaw, other treatments like the CPAP machine won’t be very effective. At the very least, you will only be managing your symptoms instead of solving the problem. And if your TMJ is already damaged, treatments like oral appliances can actually make your jaw pain worse.
If you have obstructive sleep apnea but are not happy with the results you’re seeing from the CPAP machine, you may need to talk to your doctor about how your jaw may be causing problems with your airway. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the relationship between your jaw and airway, please schedule a consultation today. Our team of sleep apnea specialists are willing to work with your doctor or dentist to help determine the root cause of your OSA. Together, we will help you move toward a better night’s sleep.