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Did you know that having a sleep disorder – known as obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, where the airway becomes blocked while you sleep – may result in issues with your temporomandibular joints (TMJ/TMD)? This is especially relevant if you have been having a lot of headaches.

Breaking It Down

First, let’s take a look at TMJ disorder. This condition targets the jaw where the jaw joint by the mandible (or lower jaw) connects to the upper jaw (or skull) at the temporal bone, right in front of the ear. Symptoms that arise with TMJ/TMD can include jaw pain in addition to pain in the head, neck and shoulder areas. If you have pain when chewing hard foods, hear clicking or popping sounds when you open or close your mouth, or have had lockjaw where you couldn’t open or close your mouth, you may have a TMJ disorder. TMJ can also from a microtrauma that arises from constant teeth grinding or jaw clenching.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that targets the lungs while you are sleeping. It is characterized by sleep interruptions throughout the night where you pause or stop breathing. Sometimes it feels like you are suffocating, and you wake up gasping for air. You might have had a sleep partner tell you that you snore loudly, and you might wake up with a sore throat or dry mouth. You could also wake up with morning headaches and spend your daytime hours feeling drowsy and fatigued to where it interferes with normal functioning.

Linking the Two Conditions

Sleep researchers have learned that TMJ disorders can contribute to problems with your sleep – such as sleep apnea – and the common denominator may very well be headaches. Sleep apnea patients may find themselves with headaches because of a jaw disorder as the muscles in the forehead and temple also work with the jaw muscles. The Journal of Dental Research reported that participants with OSA symptoms had a 73% higher rate of TMD symptoms (2013).

If your airway is blocked from OSA, your body may respond by trying to open the lower jaw wider in an attempt to open up the airway. It can then lead to snoring, a sore throat, or dry mouth if you are sleeping with your mouth wide open all night, stressing the jaw joints.

Getting Help

To provide relief for the TMJ symptoms you are experiencing may involve oral appliance therapy like wearing a mouth guard or oral splint, taking muscle relaxers or anti-inflammatory medicines, massage, jaw exercises, and other therapies. Sleep apnea treatments may involve using a CPAP machine (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) while you sleep that keeps the throat tissues and airway open or wearing an oral appliance while you sleep.

If you suspect you might have any of these conditions, we welcome you to give our office a call and schedule a consultation to get a proper diagnosis and treatment recommendations. You deserve a restful, headache-free night’s sleep. We specialize in both sleep apnea and TMJ treatment that can change your life!