Have you ever experienced pain in your jaw bone, more formally referred to as the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)? Maybe you have heard a clicking or popping sound when opening and closing your mouth? Or, perhaps you have tight, sore facial muscles? If any of this sounds familiar, you may be experiencing TMD, which is short for temporomandibular disorder. However, if you are also experiencing daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating during the day, loud snoring, or abrupt awakenings during the night, you could have sleep apnea. And that sleep apnea might be linked to your TMJ.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea occurs when your breathing suddenly or repeatedly stops and starts while you are sleeping. Typical symptoms of sleep apnea include: 

  • Loud snoring.
  • Next-day exhaustion and difficulty concentrating during the day. 
  • Observed episodes of stopped breathing during sleep.
  • Sudden awakenings throughout the night accompanied by gasping or a choking feeling.
  • Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat.
  • A morning headache that is not otherwise explained.
  • Mood changes, including depression or irritability.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Decreased libido.
  • Nighttime sweating not associated with any other health conditions.

There are three main types of sleep apnea: central sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea syndrome.

What are TMJ and TMD?

Though the abbreviations TMJ and TMD are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, the TMJ is your temporomandibular joint, the small joint that connects your jaw to your skull. TMD, however, is an abbreviation for temporomandibular joint disorder. TMD refers to various issues caused by the TMJ. 

How are sleep apnea and TMJ linked?

Medical researchers have found that nearly half of people with TMJ also have trouble sleeping. Those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea often experience a collapse in their airway, which then causes the body to push the lower jaw forward to open up the airway. This constant motion by the TMJ throughout the night can cause stress and tension on the jaw joint and increase the likelihood of TMJ disorder.

TMD is also commonly linked to chronic fatigue syndrome, which can aggravate your sleep apnea, impacting your overall health. If you think about it, consider how your airway is connected to the position of your jaw. It only makes sense, then, that sleep apnea and TMD are linked.

What to do about TMJ and sleep apnea.

Dentists like Dr. Harrison are trained to recognize the signs of sleep apnea. Many patients who suffer from disturbed sleep don’t think to talk to their physician or dentist about it, thinking that what they are experiencing is normal or is simply a sign of getting older. However, a dentist can determine if you are at risk for sleep apnea by examining the structures in your mouth. A scalloped tongue, oversized tongue, wear on teeth from grinding, and a narrow palate are all common signs that you might be experiencing sleep apnea.

Thankfully, if sleep apnea is ruining your sleep or you are experiencing jaw pain, the Millennium Dental team can help. Though occasionally TMD will go away on its own, you don’t have to live with the pain. Your dentist can help you get back on your way to better health and wellness so that you can feel better and sleep better.

Common treatments for TMD include:

  • Mouthguards or nightguards. 
  • Muscle relaxers or anti-inflammatories.
  • Corticosteroid injections to relieve pain.
  • Botox injections to relax muscles.
  • Stress counseling to get at the root causes of what might be causing your jaw-clenching.
  • Massage and stretching exercises.
  • Surgery for the most severe of cases.

Sleep apnea, however, will not go away on its own. When left untreated, it can lead to severe health complications. With untreated sleep apnea, you are at increased risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and other serious illnesses.

Common treatments for sleep apnea include:

  • Oral appliance therapy, including mouthguards and nightguards.
  • Use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
  • Surgery for the most severe of cases.

When you share your concerns about TMJ and sleep apnea with Dr. Harrison, she will discuss options including oral appliances, a properly aligned bite, and treatment for bruxism and other dental issues that can help you hold your mouth differently. She will also assess if you need crowns replaced or fixed or have fillings that no longer fit your natural bite.  

Call Dr. Harrison if you are experiencing sleep apnea or problems with your TMJ.

You don’t have to live with sleep apnea or TMD. Both conditions can be improved with a dental visit and oral assessment. If you have a TMJ disorder and need help with your jaw pain and sleep concerns, reach out to the Millennium Dental team as soon as possible. Dr. Harrison can help to diagnose the cause of your TMD and prescribe the treatment that you need. Give our office a call or request an appointment by completing our easy-to-use online form.