The Relationship between Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction, Sleep Disorders, and Bruxism

By January 31, 2023 TMJ Disorder

Temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or TMJ disorder, can have debilitating effects. Even moderate cases can cause significant pain, while severe cases can impact your ability to eat and speak properly. But you might be surprised to learn that TMD is often connected to bruxism, as well as sleep disorders, most notably obstructive sleep apnea.

Dr. Timothy A. Mickiewicz is double certified through both the Academy of Clinical Sleep Disorders Disciplines and the Academy of Integrative Pain Management. He has been featured as “The Face of TMJ Therapy/Dental Sleep Medicine” by Sacramento Magazine. Therefore, when you visit his practice, you can rest assured that you will receive qualified care that focuses on your entire wellbeing. Dr. Mickiewicz understands the relationship between various oral-physical health concerns. He can provide effective, holistic care to achieve long-lasting relief from pain. 

If you have been diagnosed with temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or if you are experiencing any of its symptoms, contact Dr. Mickiewicz today.

What is temporomandibular joint dysfunction? 

Your temporomandibular joints are the hinges that connect your jaw to your skull. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction arises when the joints are damaged or when the surrounding muscles are inflamed

Joint damage can occur when the cushioning discs inside the joints slip out of place. This can cause the bones of the TMJs to grind together. In other cases, degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis) can cause the bone and cushioning tissues to break down. Alternatively, diseases like rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to temporomandibular joint dysfunction. While it is more common for rheumatoid arthritis to affect the hands, arms, feet, and legs, in severe or advanced cases, it can also attack the TMJs. 

Frequently, the root cause of temporomandibular joint dysfunction is more benign. Often, patients develop TMD as a result of chronic teeth grinding (bruxism). Bruxism itself is often the result of chronic stress and anxiety.

What are the symptoms of TMD?

Whatever the cause of temporomandibular joint dysfunction, the side effects are similar across the board. Symptoms may include

  • Pain with jaw movement
  • Radiating pain across the face and down the neck and shoulders
  • A popping and/or clicking noise in the jaw
  • Chronic headaches
  • Jaw stiffness or a limited range of motion in the jaw
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness 

Sleep Apnea Causes and Symptoms

The relationship between TMD and conditions like arthritis is fairly straightforward. But what is not so obvious is the correlation between temporomandibular joint dysfunction and conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea

If you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), your airways are impeded during the night. Your soft palate, tongue, or the tissues lining your throat will droop down so that air is not able to pass through freely. As a result, you will wake up repeatedly, although you will likely not be aware of these interruptions. You will, however, be aware of their side effects, which can include fatigue, daytime sleepiness, irritability, forgetfulness, and depression, among others. 

The causes of sleep apnea are not fully understood. But your risk is greater if you are male, overweight, and/or middle aged. Smoking and genetics also play a role in the development of OSA.

How are TMD and OSA connected?

The connection between temporomandibular joint dysfunction and sleep apnea actually goes both ways. In many cases, TMD lead to cause sleep apnea. This is because a misaligned jaw can cause the soft tissues in the mouth and throat to droop into the airways

In other cases, sleep apnea can cause TMD, primarily by contributing to bruxism, or chronic teeth grinding. 

Bruxism’s Connection to OSA and TMD

Scientists caution that the connection between bruxism and OSA is not fully understood. Does bruxism lead to OSA or vice versa? The most common view is that OSA leads to teeth grinding. Proponents claim that, in order to open up your blocked airways, you may unconsciously tighten and clench your jaw.

A less popular notion in the scientific community is that bruxism can lead to sleep apnea. Scientists who hold this view believe that the neurological signals that lead to teeth grinding also cause congestion and impaired breathing. This view has not gained much traction because incidents of teeth grinding only precede incidents of sleep apnea 25% of the time.

What is not disputed is the exact correlation between bruxism and temporomandibular joint dysfunction. When you continually grind your teeth and jaw, it puts tremendous strain on the TMJs. At the very least, this can lead to pronounced muscle inflammation. More seriously, it can cause a slipped disc and other damage. 

Oral Appliances to Treat Orofacial Dysfunction

Dr. Mickiewicz offers complete treatment for temporomandibular joint dysfunction, sleep disorders, and bruxism. In fact, in some cases, a single treatment is effective for all three conditions. An oral appliance can realign the jaw, prevent teeth from touching, and open up the airways during sleep. Oral appliances are custom-made for your comfort and to ensure proper jaw alignment.

You should adjust to our appliance quickly. In a matter of days, you could experience better sleep than you may have had in years. And as the inflammation in your jaw muscles subsides, you could also enjoy dramatic relief from jaw pain and related symptoms.

Holistic Care for Jaw Dysfunction and Sleep Apnea

But oral appliances are just one aspect of treatment. Depending on the causes of TMD, bruxism, and sleep apnea, Dr. Mickiewicz can provide one or more of the following treatments:

  • Trigger Point Injections (TPI): Injections of local anesthesia can release tight knots of muscles, which can cause radiating pain in the area.
  • Physical therapy: Stretches and exercises can help to alleviate inflammation, improve jaw movements, and reposition the jaw. 
  • Medications: As a temporary solution, anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants can reduce pain as other treatments take effect. Alternatively, since bruxism is often connected to stress, anxiety medications may help. 
  • Suggested lifestyle changes: To alleviate teeth grinding and jaw pain, you might consider stress management techniques, counseling, or therapy. To help with sleep apnea, you may want to lose weight, quit smoking, or reduce alcohol consumption. And regular exercise and a healthy diet can benefit every aspect of your health. 

Contact Dr. Mickiewicz for Long-Lasting Relief from Your Jaw Pain

If you suffer from TMD, bruxism, or sleep apnea, there is a good chance that another aspect of your health is involved, as well. Visit a doctor who understands the connection between all these conditions.

Contact our Sacramento, CA, office online or call us at 916-469-9178.