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Sleep Apnea and TMJ

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Sleep Apnea and TMJ

Sleep apnea is a complex condition that can greatly affect an individual’s sleep quality. There can be many causes of sleep apnea, and one of them is TMJ. TMJ, which is short for the temporomandibular joint, is the hinge that connects your jaw to your skull. If you are having issues with TMJ and are sleeping poorly because of it, keep reading to learn more about sleep apnea and TMJ and what you can start doing today for a better night’s sleep.

Sleep Apnea and TMJ: What is TMJ?

As mentioned, TMJ is short for the temporomandibular joint. The temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder affects between 5% and 12% of people and TMJ disorders are at least twice as prevalent in women as men. The interesting thing about TMJ is that there is no standard definition. It can be diagnosed by asking about simple symptoms and the prevalence of them.

The temporomandibular joint is moved by four different muscles. These are the:

These four muscles, all linked to the nerve V3 (also known as the mandibular division of the trigeminal nerve), work in different groups to be able to move the jaw in different directions. When one of these muscles is affected, it can cause a chain reaction to the other groups that now need to work harder to make up for it. This can cause a host of issues that become TMJ disorders.

What Causes TMJ?

Symptoms of TMJ Disorders

Symptoms of TMJ Disorders include:

Effects of TMJ Disorders

If left untreated, TMJ disorders can cause long-lasting effects. These include:

Treatments for TMJ

Unfortunately, there is no simple medication that can be prescribed for TMJ disorders. It is complex and unique to each individual who suffers from it, and what may work for one person might not work for another. Treatments for TMJ include:

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is defined as a condition marked by abnormal breathing during sleep. People with sleep apnea have multiple extended breathing pauses when they sleep. These temporary breathing lapses cause lower-quality sleep and affect the body’s supply of oxygen, leading to potentially serious health consequences.

Although sleep apnea is very common, it is a dangerous condition that can extend to almost every area of an individual’s life. The tricky part about sleep apnea is that an individual may have no idea they suffer from it, unless they are able to recognize the signs and symptoms or have a partner who alerts them of their abnormal breathing. In fact, of the estimated 22 million Americans who suffer from sleep apnea, 80 percent of the cases of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea are undiagnosed.

Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Types of Sleep Apnea

  1. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): OSA occurs when the airway at the back of the throat becomes physically blocked. That obstruction causes temporary lapses in breath.
  2. Central sleep apnea (CSA): CSA happens because there is a problem with the brain’s system for controlling muscles involved in respiration, leading to slower and shallower breathing.
  3. Mixed sleep apnea: When a person has both OSA and CSA at the same time, it is referred to as mixed sleep apnea or complex sleep apnea.

The Link Between Sleep Apnea and TMJ

When an individual is suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, the airway is blocked and the body gets into survival mode. In order to keep breathing, the body pushes the jaw forward in order to open up the airway. As this happens repeatedly throughout the night, it can cause unnecessary stress to the TMJ muscles and potentially lead to TMJ disorders.

Alternatively, existing TMJ disorders can exacerbate sleep apnea. Having the proper jaw placement is essential to a great night’s sleep, and when an individual has a misaligned jaw due to TMJ disorders, it can lead to sleep apnea.

It can be impossible for many people to figure out which came first: their TMJ disorder or their sleep apnea. This is why it is very important to find a treatment plan that can help treat both, so that one does not exacerbate the other.

Treatments for Sleep Apnea

CPAP Machine

When people hear “sleep apnea”, they often think of a CPAP machine. This medical device works by providing more oxygen through the airways at a greater pressure. This offers the user a better night’s sleep, less snoring, and eases all of the symptoms of sleep apnea.

However, many individuals suffering from sleep apnea do not want to go through the process of dealing with a CPAP machine. They can be expensive, loud, and difficult to get used to, uncomfortable on their face in certain sleeping positions, and difficult to travel with. They can disturb the user’s partner, and they can be tedious to keep clean or repair.


With severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea, surgery may be a great option. By removing the obstruction, the individual will be able to have a more restful and restorative night’s sleep. Surgery should only be considered if all other options have been exhausted.

Oral Appliance

One way to treat sleep apnea and TMJ together is by using an oral appliance. An oral appliance will prevent the tongue from blocking the throat, or move the lower jaw forward, or both. By having proper jaw placement, you can train your TMJ muscles while also clearing the obstruction that causes your snoring.


Another way to treat both sleep apnea and TMJ at the same time is to try exercises, also known as Myofunctional Therapy. These exercises will help strengthen the jaw over time — just like “working out” any other muscle in the body! They help the muscles not only strengthen but adjust back to their natural resting place. Improper tongue and jaw resting posture can lead to a host of issues other than sleep apnea and TMJ. These include:

How to Fix Sleep Apnea and TMJ Today

If you are ready to tackle your sleep apnea and TMJ issues, we can help. As a highly trained dentist in the treatment of TMD, Dr. Martin Gorman has spent years learning and practicing the most advanced technology and research to bring relief to TMD patients. The heart of our practice is to help you find freedom from TMJ and related symptoms—especially TMJ tension headaches and migraine headaches.

Dr. Gorman’s firm commitment to his patients is to provide relief from migraine headaches, teeth grinding, jaw popping and clicking, ringing in ears, as well as any jaw, face, head, or neck pain related to TMJ. His approach is a comprehensive program for treating all TMJ issues.

Learn more and get in touch with us at