How TMJ Contributes to Sleep Apnea

In TMJ, the jaw is usually shifted backward. This is because of the way that the mouth arch has developed and the way the teeth now fit together, limiting the positions the jaw can be in when fully closed. Ironically, this is often because obstructed breathing in the nasal passages that contributes to mouth breathing during sleep.

When the jaw is shifted backward, it not only puts stress on the muscles, ligaments, and bones of the jaw, it narrows the airway. A narrow airway can automatically lead to snoring, but it can also make the airway more likely to collapse, cutting off air and causing an apnea.

How Sleep Apnea Contributes to TMJ

Sleep apnea in turn can make TMJ worse. This occurs every time you have an obstructive apneic episode.

Then the brain senses the oxygen shortage related to the cut off of air, it partially awakens and tries to reopen the airway. One thing it does to achieve this is to clench the jaw to better anchor the muscles that hold open the airway. This jaw clenching is one of the causes of night bruxism, and it can be very hard on the jaw muscles and the jaw joint, increasing the displacement of the jaw joint and causing additional jaw pain.

Treatment Must Be Sensitive to the Connection

In order to ensure successful treatment, sleep apnea treatment and TMJ treatment must both be done in awareness of the connection between the conditions.

TMJ treatment often involves the use of a bite splint which is intended to hold the jaw in an optimal position for jaw comfort and health. Since this bite splint is often worn at night, a poorly designed splint could actually cause sleep apnea by positioning the jaw in such a way that it narrows or closes the airway.

Similarly, when a sleep apnea appliance is designed, it has to be designed in a way that is sensitive to the position of the jaw. An oral appliance that advances the jaw too much to try to keep the airway open can worsen TMJ.

If you are looking for a sleep dentist who is capable of treating both TMJ and sleep apnea, please call (201) 343-4044 or email the River Edge Dental Center for TMJ, Sleep Apnea, & Reconstructive Dentistry.