The Connection Between Sleep Apnea and TMJ Disorder (TMD)

one man putting snore guard in mouth, the other man using a CPAP machine

There is a clear link between sleep apnea and TMJ disorder or TMD. Individuals with TMD are at a higher risk of experiencing sleep apnea. Furthermore, sleep apnea can exacerbate the symptoms of TMD. In this post, we will explore the connection between sleep apnea and TMD, addressing the top five questions that people commonly have about these interconnected conditions. We assume that you are already familiar with these conditions, which is why you are reading this post. So, without further ado, let’s delve into the topic.

1. Will Treating Sleep Apnea Help with TMJ?

Yes, treating sleep apnea can help with TMD. This is because when your breathing is interrupted during sleep, your body releases stress hormones. These hormones can cause your jaw muscles to tense up, which can lead to pain and inflammation in the TMD. Treating sleep apnea can help with TMD in a few ways.

First, it can reduce the stress hormones that are released when your breathing is interrupted. This can help to relax your jaw muscles and reduce pain and inflammation. Second, treating sleep apnea can improve your sleep quality. The body does most of its healing while sleeping. Providing your body a chance to rest and heal can also help to improve your TMD symptoms.

In the reverse, TMD can also lead to sleep apnea. If a patient has an overbite or underbite or the jaw is misaligned, it can cause the jaw to block the airway and disrupt breathing while sleeping.

2. How Do You Sleep with Sleep Apnea and TMJ/TMD?

It can be emotionally troubling when you have sleep apnea and it comes time to sleep. Couple that with TMD and you might be wondering how you will ever sleep. There are things you can do to help you get the sleep that you need.

  • See a doctor or dentist. The first step is to get a diagnosis from a doctor or dentist like Dr. Postol who specializes in sleep apnea and TMD. They can help you determine the best course of treatment for your individual needs.
  • Use a CPAP machine. A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is not for everyone, but it can help those who can afford it and don’t mind wearing to bed a mask that you wear over your nose and/or mouth attached to air hoses. The machine delivers a steady stream of air to help keep your airway open and prevent snoring.
  • Use a mouthguard. An alternative to a CPAP machine is a mouthguard to help keep your jaw in a neutral position while you sleep. The mouthguard can help to reduce TMJ pain and prevent clenching or grinding your teeth.
  • Make lifestyle changes. There are also some lifestyle changes you can make to improve your sleep quality, such as losing weight, quitting smoking, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine before bed. There are also simple things you can do like avoiding television or looking at your phone at least an hour before bed to prevent disruption to your sleep cycle.

Here are some additional tips for sleeping with sleep apnea and TMD:

  • Sleep on your side. Sleeping on your side can help to keep your airway open and prevent snoring and sleep apnea. Additionally, sleeping on your left side is better for blood flow and preventing heartburn symptoms.
  • Elevate your head. Elevating your head by 6 to 8 inches can also help to keep your airway open. You can do this by using a wedge pillow or by placing pillows under your head and shoulders. Researchers have shown that tilting people 7.5 degrees in bed reduced obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) severity by 31.8% on average.
  • Avoid sleeping in a cold room. You may have heard that sleeping in a colder room helps you to sleep. This is true, but a cold room that is too cold can dry out your airways, making it more difficult to breathe. Aim to sleep in a room that is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Get regular exercise. Exercise can help to improve your overall health and sleep quality. However, avoid exercising too close to bedtime, as this can make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Manage stress. Stress can worsen sleep apnea and TMD. Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercise, spending time outdoors, relaxation techniques, or spending time with loved ones.

If you are struggling to sleep with sleep apnea and TMJ, talk to Dr. Postol. He can help you develop a treatment plan that is right for you.

3. Do Dentists Make Sleep Apnea Mouthpieces?

Yes, dentists can make sleep apnea mouthpieces. They are called mandibular advancement devices (MADs) and they are custom-made to fit your teeth and jaw. MADs work by moving your lower jaw forward, which helps to keep your airway open during sleep.

To get a MAD or oral appliance, you need to see a dentist who specializes in sleep apnea like Dr. Postol. The Gateway Center for Sleep Apnea & TMJ Therapy offers five oral appliances. Dr. Postol will take an impression of your teeth and jaw, and then send the impression to a lab to create the appliance. The manufacturing process typically takes a few weeks.

Once you have the MAD oral appliance, you will need to wear it for a few weeks to see how it works. Dr. Postol will then adjust the MAD as needed.

The benefits of MADs are that they are less expensive than CPAP machines, they are an effective treatment for sleep apnea and you don’t have the wear a headgear with air hoses that can greatly affect comfort. MADs are not as effective as CPAP machines, but they are a good option for people who cannot tolerate CPAP machines.

4. Can A Sleep Apnea Mouthpiece Cause TMJ?

There is the potential that a mouthpiece can contribute to TMJ pain. However, The biggest danger is over-the-counter (OTC) “snoring” appliances that people might buy and try at home. The oral appliances or snore guards that Dr. Postol creates for you are custom-made and able to be adjusted as needed. This is why a dentist like Dr. Postol is strongly recommended so that you don’t develop conditions that cause or exacerbate TMD conditions.

5. Should I Use a CPAP Machine or Oral Appliance If I Have TMD with Sleep Apnea?

If you have TMD, both CPAP machines and oral appliances can potentially help to improve your symptoms. Which treatment to choose depends on a number of factors including the severity of your TMD, the severity of your sleep apnea, and your level of comfort using either option.

CPAP machines can help to reduce the stress on your jaw joints by preventing snoring and sleep apnea episodes. Oral appliances can also help to reduce the stress on your jaw joints by repositioning the jaw or tongue.

Here are some additional things to consider when choosing between a CPAP machine and an oral appliance, especially if you suffer from TMD.

  • Cost: CPAP machines can be more expensive than oral appliances.
  • Convenience: CPAP machines can be bulky and difficult to travel with. Oral appliances are more portable and easier to take on the go.
  • Comfort: CPAP machines can be uncomfortable to wear, especially at first. Oral appliances are typically more comfortable to wear than CPAP machines.
  • Effectiveness: CPAP machines are more effective than oral appliances for severe sleep apnea. Oral appliances are more effective than CPAP machines for mild to moderate sleep apnea.

The best thing for you to do when deciding on the best treatment for your condition is to schedule a consultation with Dr. Postol. He can provide you with all the information you need to help make a decision on the best treatment.