tmj and sleep apnea

A friend of mine told me I should talk to a TMJ dentist because I’ve been struggling with sleep apnea. I’m not sure how reliable the source is, but thinking back, I really think my jaw problems and sleep apnea did start around the same time.

Back then, I was told to get a nightguard. I got one and I wore it for a while, but I don’t remember there being any difference and I found it cumbersome to sleep with, so I stopped using it and don’t remember what I did with it. I never got diagnosed with sleep apnea officially—my ex said I had it and that I snored. I figured if the fix for that was a full-on mask, there was no point in doing the sleep study since I couldn’t even tolerate the night guard. But, now I’m wondering if I should make my way back into the TMJ dentist again, just to see if I can have a new guard made that will address both. How viable is this?

Thank you,


Dear Oscar,

You’re asking some great questions and are sort of on the right track. Let’s break things down a bit.

Sleep Apnea Involves Breaks of Breathing While You Sleep

There are three main forms of sleep apnea.

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: With obstructive sleep apnea, the muscles of the throat relax and block airways. It’s more common with people who carry extra weight, have allergies, take certain medications, and those who drink alcohol, among other things.
  • Central Sleep Apnea: With central sleep apnea, the brain doesn’t send the right signals to the muscles which control breathing.
  • Complex Sleep Apnea: When someone has both obstructive and central sleep apnea, it’s referred to as complex sleep apnea.

All Forms of Sleep Apnea Must Be Treated

When you wake up repeatedly through the night, your body has trouble making it through the various sleep cycles, so you never get a full night of sleep, no matter how many hours you spend in bed. That can lead to things like being grouchy, groggy, tired, and listless. In severe cases, sleep deprivation produces symptoms that are worse than being drunk, which makes it unsafe to drive and engage in a number of activities.

TMJ Dentists Help with Jaw Disorders

Most people refer to the concept of jaw issues as “TMJ,” but the acronym is short for temporomandibular joint, which is your jaw joint. When something’s wrong with it, it’s referred to as a temporomandibular joint disorder or temporomandibular disorder (TMD).

TMD Has Many Known Causes

In most cases, it’s the muscles which support the joint that become problematic. For example, a traumatic injury, like from a car accident, can cause TMD. Grinding, clenching, stress, and arthritis can all result in TMD too.

All Forms of TMD Must Be Treated

People who don’t treat TMD wind up with pain and tenderness, popping and clicking sounds as they open and close their mouths, difficulty opening, trouble chewing, and so forth. When grinding and clenching are involved, teeth issues also set in. Teeth may wear down or become loose. Dental work may wear out or break. The symptoms become worse over time if nothing is done.

If Malalignment is Contributing to Your Sleep Apnea, a TMJ Dentist Can Help

Research shows a huge correlation between sleep apnea and TMD. People who have one usually have the other. That’s not surprising, because if your jaw is not aligned properly, it will cause undue stress to your temporomandibular joint and the muscles which support it, plus cause your tongue to lay in an unnatural way. A doctor who performs a physical exam and takes x-rays may be able to give you a definitive answer, but ultimately, you need treatment for both. Go visit the TMJ dentist for treatment and see if that helps your sleep apnea. If not, then you’ll still want to follow through with your sleep apnea treatment.

This blog is sponsored by New Orleans Dentist Dr. Duane DeLaune.