Find more ways to treat your sleep apnea or TMJ symptoms.

Have you ever participated in a relay race where one of your legs was tied to someone else’s and you needed to work together to run across the finish line? You were still two separate people, but if your partner tripped, you would too. This is reminiscent of the relationship between sleep apnea and TMD. They’re distinct conditions that, in many ways, couldn’t be more different. After all, sleep apnea involves your ability to continue breathing while you’re sleeping, while TMD involves the joints and muscles of your jaw. Despite this, there’s mounting scientific evidence that suggests a link between the two conditions.

If you’re just learning about this link, you might be unsure of whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. When it’s considered and addressed promptly, it can actually be a good thing by helping you receive better treatment outcomes from more angles. This helps you sleep better and feel healthier every day! We know that understanding this link can be complicated and confusing, so we’ve done our best to explain it and help you understand how it might impact you and your treatment.

The two conditions are distinct but connected.

Sleep apnea is a condition where you regularly stop breathing for 10 to 30 seconds at a time in your sleep, either due to an obstruction in your airway such as collapsing tissues in your throat or because your brain fails to send signals to your muscles telling them to move so you can breathe. On the other hand, TMD is a condition involving a problem with the joints or muscles of your jaw that leads to widespread symptoms like jaw pain, frequent headaches, muscle pain, earaches, and more. In fact, while these conditions are completely different, they have several overlapping symptoms, such as frequent headaches, poor sleep quality, fatigue, and bruxism, which is when you chronically clench or grind your teeth.

This is where we begin seeing a genuine link between the two conditions. TMD is incredibly common among patients with sleep apnea, with one study finding that 52% of participating sleep apnea patients had signs of it. So, what’s the connection? This overlap may be because sleep apnea can cause you to clench or grind your teeth when you sleep. It’s believed that this is your body’s unconscious way of opening your airway, allowing you to breathe more easily. This grinding puts a constant strain on the joints of your jaw, which can contribute to existing issues with your bite or TMJ, leading to the development of TMD. As a result, sleep apnea can result in the development of TMD — which also means that TMD has the potential to point to the presence of sleep apnea in some patients!

Dentists can spot signs of sleep apnea in your mouth.

Sleep apnea can have a huge impact on your health if it goes undiagnosed, but it’s still fairly common for it to go undiagnosed simply because many people who suffer from disturbed sleep don’t talk to a physician about it. After all, it’s so easy to attribute many of sleep apnea’s symptoms to other issues or to brush them off as a simple headache or an unusually bad night of sleep. Thankfully, your dentist is trained to spot the signs of sleep apnea in your mouth, including a scalloped or enlarged tongue, narrow palate, enlarged tonsils, or wear and tear on your teeth from clenching and grinding them at night.

This is also where the link between sleep apnea and TMD can actually help you! Dentists can also recognize signs of TMD in your mouth, such as worn teeth, popping or cracking jaws, or self-described symptoms like jaw and muscle pain, headaches, and earaches. The presence of these symptoms could be a sign that you may have an undiagnosed case of sleep apnea. As a result, your dentist may ask more questions about your symptoms to determine if this is a possibility. The dentist might sound like a strange place to get a tip that you need to visit a sleep doctor, but it can be a vital step in the right direction, potentially protecting your overall health in the long term.

At Ada Smile Place, those who suspect they may need to be evaluated for sleep apnea can schedule a sleep wellness consultation. In that consultation, our team will utilize a couple of diagnostic tools to check for airway blockage and collapse. If there are any concerning findings, we can send that patient home with an at-home sleep study device. It only needs to be worn for one night, and then you can drop it off the next day! The results of the sleep study go to a sleep physician for their review and recommendations.

Some dental treatments can improve sleep apnea and TMJ.

Dentists can do more than simply identify TMJ issues or signs of sleep apnea. They can help relieve the symptoms of both conditions, helping you to sleep and feel better while improving your overall health. In large part, this is because the position of your jaw impacts how open your airway is. In fact, everyone has an ideal relaxed jaw position that leaves their airway as open as possible, but issues like a misaligned bite can mean that your jaw doesn’t relax in this ideal position. Many effective dental treatments for TMJ pain and sleep apnea involve correcting the position of your jaw or bite so it fits together ideally.

If you have sleep apnea, an oral appliance that you wear to sleep at night can hold your jaw in this ideal position while you sleep. This helps prevent snoring and relieves symptoms of mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea for some people — without a CPAP machine! A similar oral appliance, called a nightguard, can be worn at night if clenching or grinding your teeth is your main problem. This device prevents bruxism, protecting your teeth from potential injuries as well as the wear and tear that clenching and grinding them can cause over time.

You can also resolve a misaligned bite more permanently using orthodontic treatments, replacing or fixing crowns and fillings that no longer fit with your natural bite, or treating other dental issues that can cause you to hold your mouth differently. In some cases, orofacial myofunctional therapy can retrain the muscles of your face, jaws, and lips, helping you hold your tongue and jaw in a correct position. Resolving your bite or the position of your jaws and muscles can help relieve your symptoms as well! For some people, orofacial myofunctional therapy can also be the key to ensuring that orthodontic treatments last long term, as incorrect oral posture can cause your teeth to shift back to their previous positions over time.

Learn more about the link between sleep apnea and TMD with the help of our Ada Smile Place team.

The link between sleep apnea and TMD may sound strange at first, but it’s very real, and it can actually work in your favor! Your dentist can help identify these issues and may also be able to help relieve your symptoms, allowing you to sleep easier and feel better in your daily life. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, feel free to call Ada Smile Place at any time to schedule an appointment!