What is Sleep Apnea?

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Do you wake up tired every day? Do you snore loudly? Have others observed that you sometimes stop breathing during sleep?

These are just a few of the symptoms of sleep apnea, a “potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts,” according to Mayo Clinic.

Tired woman reading a book and falling asleep

Sleep apnea can cause loud snoring, difficulties falling asleep, tiredness, and irritability. In some cases, it is correlated with weight gain, heart disease, and type II diabetes.

So, what exactly is sleep apnea? How do you know if you have it? And how can you treat it?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is Sleep Apnea?

There are actually two different types of sleep apnea.

The most common type, which we’ll focus on in this post, is obstructive sleep apnea.

Obstructive apnea occurs when your upper airway is partially or completely blocked during sleep. When you have sleep apnea, “your breath can become very shallow or you may even stop breathing — briefly — while you sleep” (WebMD). People with sleep apnea often do not sleep well, but may be unaware that their sleep is interrupted. Sleep apnea can lead to exhaustion, and can also increase your risk for heart disease. 

How is Sleep Apnea Connected to TMJ Disorder? 

Many things can cause obstructive sleep apnea.

You may be at risk for developing obstructive sleep apnea if you are overweight. Sleep apnea is also more common in people of middle age, men, people with high blood pressure, and people with a family history of sleep apnea.

Sometimes, TMJ disorder can also contribute to sleep apnea.

TMJ Disorder Can Contribute to Sleep Apnea

TMJ disorder occurs when teeth don’t fit together properly, resulting in a bad bite. (You can learn more about TMJ disorder here.) To treat TMJ disorder, neuromuscular dentists find the best position for your jaw, and “reteach” your jaw to open and close in this optimal position.

If you suffer from sleep apnea, neuromuscular dentistry can be used to move your jaw forward and create a larger airway, decreasing instances of sleep apnea. Questions? Your dentist can help you determine whether this option is right for you.

Sleep Apnea Can Lead to TMJ Disorder

Sleep apnea can also lead to TMJ disorder. How?

Sleep apnea is sometimes treated using devices that shift your jaw forward to keep your airway open. If this shift isn’t done carefully, it can sometimes place your jaw outside a comfortable range of motion, and place the teeth in an unfavorable position where only the front teeth hit together.

This misalignment can cause significant wear and tear to your front teeth. Sometimes, this wear and tear is painful, and patients will come to us looking for a solution. However, we also discover cases of wear that patients did not feel or know were occurring

Because of this risk, you should always consult a TMJ dental expert before trying an oral appliance to treat sleep apnea.

Wondering if your sleep apnea has caused TMJ disorder?  TMJ disorder can show up as jaw, neck, or shoulder pain, and severe headaches. Patients with TMJ disorder may also experience ringing in the ear (tinnitus), jaw locking, and dizziness or vertigo. Learn more about TMJ disorder here.

The Good News: Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

If you suffer from sleep apnea, you have options for treatment.

1. Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) machine

The most common option? A Continuous Air Pressure Device (CPAP). A CPAP machine gently blows air into your mouth throughout sleep, preventing your airway from closing. This is the most common sleep apnea treatment available today.

2. Oral Appliance

Oral appliances are a popular alternative to CPAP machines for patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea who want to avoid the noise, hassle, or cost of a CPAP machine. However, they may not be sufficient for treating severe sleep apnea.

Note: As we’ve said before, if you go this route, it’s important to consult with a neuromuscular dentist to ensure that this treatment doesn’t alter the position of your jaw in a harmful way.

3. Neuromuscular Dentistry

If your sleep apnea is linked to TMJ disorder, neuromuscular dentistry is often your best treatment option.

Neuromuscular dentistry is dedicated to finding the ideal position for your jaw at rest and in motion. It’s most often used to treat TMJ disorder. However, it can also help eliminate obstructive sleep apnea.

How? If the position of your jaw and soft tissue is obstructing your airway, moving your jaw to a more ideal position can help open up this passage.

Do You Have Sleep Apnea or TMJ Disorder?

A sleep study is often necessary to determine whether you have sleep apnea.

To determine whether you suffer from TMJ disorder, your best option is to consult with a neuromuscular dentist. They will be able to evaluate and diagnose your symptoms, and help you find the treatment option that’s right for you.

Know Before You Go

Before you schedule an appointment, it’s important to get the facts. If you think you may have TMJ disorder, check out our free ebook to learn about this disorder and your treatment options.