Sleep Disorders and TMD

How Does Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) Relate to TMJ Disorders (TMD)?

OSA occurs when your airway becomes closed and you are not able to breathe during sleep.  When you are unable to breathe, you body panics and undergoes a stressful response.  Sleep bruxism, also known as “grinding your teeth”, is linked to this stress response.  Sleep bruxism can unleash remarkable damage to the jaw joint, gums and teeth themselves.  If these conditions are not managed, long term consequences can be irreversible and devastating.  Dentists often prescribe bite splints to help manage this problem.  If you treat the airway however, often you also help improve the stability of the jaw joint because the sleep bruxism condition vanishes.

The conditions that cause OSA often exist at an early age and continue to worsen throughout life.  Some would argue that the airway deficiencies that cause obstructive sleep apnea were present before the TMD exists, and even contribute to the onset and progression of the temporomandibular disorder.  When a baby isn’t properly nursing, the jaw doesn’t develop and the airway immediately begin being compromised.  If a child has enlarged tonsils that cause apneic events while sleeping, not only will their jaw development continue to be deficient, but they also often lose out on the essential growth hormone release that occurs during the deep N3 state of sleep.

What Steps Should I Take?

If you recognize airway problems at an early age, solutions such as orthodontic treatment and tonsil removal can be enough to reverse the course and prevent the onset of OSA and TMD.  When someone is currently suffering from TMD, the airway must be evaluated otherwise the treatment may not be successful.  Oral appliance therapy can be a great tool in positioning the jaw joint in the healthier position as well as providing an adequate airway while asleep.  Understanding the relationship between the two and how that can affect each other is critical to success in treatment.