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Sleep Apnea and TMJ: Are they Related?

June 16, 2023

Research has always looked at these two conditions as completely separate. However, current research indicates that there might be a cyclical connection between the two.

Some research indicates that the lack of sleep associated with sleep apnea could lead to bruxism, which could lead to OSA- and so on. Quality Sleep Solutions has five locations across South Carolina. We can help diagnose and treat your sleep issues. We offer an alternative to traditional CPAP therapy for sleep apnea.

What is Sleep Apnea?

  • Research shows that approximately 5% to 10% of the population has some form of sleep apnea, which is a condition in which a person stops breathing while sleeping. Males are more commonly affected by this condition than females. There are two primary types of sleep apnea:
    • Central: your brain doesn’t properly control your breathing
    • Obstructive: there is a blockage in your airway

This cessation in your breathing startles you, causing you to wake up just enough that you start breathing again. While the startle reflex keeps you alive, it also interrupts your sleep, so that you don’t get restful sleep.

The most common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Feeling tired/exhausted when waking up
  • Sleepiness during waking hours
  • Snoring
  • Changes in mood
  • Brain-function issues including memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and others
  • Waking repeatedly during the night
  • Pauses in breathing while sleeping
  • Unusual breathing patterns
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness at night
  • Night sweats
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Waking up short of breath or choking
  • Headaches upon waking

Risk factors of sleep apnea include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Hormonal disorders
  • PCOS
  • Nasal congestion
  • Use of alcohol, tranquilizers, or sedatives
  • Family history of sleep apnea
  • Overweight/obese
  • Smoking
  • Large neck circumference
  • Narrow airways
If you believe you may have sleep apnea, it’s important to consult with a medical professional that can diagnose and treat your condition. Diagnosis starts with a sleep study to determine how many episodes you are having per night, which will determine the severity of your condition.

What is TMJ & TMD?

TMJ disorder, or TMD, is a condition that impacts the temporomandibular joint, which is a joint located at the base of the skull. This joint allows your jaw to make the movements necessary for chewing and talking. Research shows that approximately 12% of the population is affected by this condition, primarily females.

The most common causes of TMD include:

While you can’t necessarily control the above factors, there are some habits that can worsen this condition, including:

  • Using teeth as tools
  • Chewing on non-food items
  • Chewing on ice
  • Excessively chewing gum
  • Poor posture
  • Taking large bites of food
  • Stomach sleeping

The primary symptoms include pain, sounds like clicking/popping when moving the jaw, and restricted movement.

Other symptoms include:

Diagnosis starts with a comprehensive dental exam, which includes imaging. Some of the most common imaging used in diagnosing TMJ disorder are dental x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and TMJ arthroscopy.

How does TMJ Lead to Sleep Apnea/Sleep-related Issues?

Recent studies have found that there is a connection between obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, and TMD. There are certain factors that could impact the connection between the two.

For example, it appears that many patients with OSA often have more motor activity in their upper airway because their body is trying to keep the airway open by pushing the lower jaw forward. This results in bruxism, which ultimately puts a strain on the joint, the articular disc, and the muscles/tissues around it. This can lead to inflammation and TMJ disorders.

On the other hand, sometimes the two have the same underlying cause. For example, malocclusions, or teeth misalignments, can cause airway blockages while sleeping. In addition, this prevents the jaw muscles from resting in a comfortable position, which puts pressure on the joint.

Mitigating TMJ and Sleep Apnea Problems

Treatment for both conditions depends on the root cause. During your consultation appointment, when diagnosing your condition, the doctor will determine what is causing your symptoms. Many times, it will take some trial and error to find the best treatment.

The most common treatment for sleep apnea is CPAP.

Other treatments include:

  • Medications
  • Oral appliances
  • Nerve stimulation
  • Weight loss
  • Surgery

The most common treatments for TMJ disorders include:

  • Medications
  • Mouthguards
  • TENS therapy
  • Behavioral changes
  • Surgery

Typically, treatment starts with the most conservative, least invasive options. Surgery is usually only considered as the last option.

Get TMJ & Sleep Apnea Treatment in Quality Sleep Solutions, SC!

Many times, CPAP is recommended for treating sleep apnea. However, this may not always be the best option and, in many cases, can be inconvenient.

The best treatment depends on the cause of your sleep apnea and TMJ. The professionals at Quality Sleep Solutions in South Carolina can help diagnose and treat your conditions to improve your sleep. Schedule your consultation with one of our 5 convenient locations across South Carolina. We offer a more comfortable, convenient alternative to CPAP therapy.

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