How Can TMJ Affect You?


When I first learned about sleep apnea, I thought that was a pretty simple disorder to understand. Everything is pretty straightforward, right? Such and such is what causes it, talk to such and such about how what steps to take next, do such and such to help monitor and control the disorder. As simple as I thought it was, I learned very quickly that this was not the case at all.

Turns out there are many different things that can cause a person to have sleep apnea, ranging from being overweight, family genetics, etc., and CPAP is not the only form of therapy that helps treat sleep apnea. Just recently I learned that having an unusual neck structure and/or a small lower jaw could also cause someone to suffer from sleep apnea. There is also something known as temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome) that can be the underlying cause of sleep apnea.

So, firstly, what the heck is the temporomandibular joint and where is is located? The temporomandibular joint pretty much acts like a hinge that connects your jawbone to you skull. When this joint is injured or damaged, of course, there will be pain – jaw pain and discomfort, there might be some difficulty when chewing, and there maybe a clicking or locking on the jaw joint. Now it seems that there is no one thing that causes TMJ syndrome, rather there are numerous things that contribute to it (Teeth grinding, stress or anxiety, excessive gum chewing, etc.) (Yikes, guess I better chill out on all the gum chewing!)

Now while there is no one cause of this syndrome, it is related to sleep apnea in a small way. There are two parts to the relationship that is TMJ and sleep apnea: how TMJ causes sleep apnea, and how sleep apnea causes TMJ.

In regards to it causing sleep apnea – as this syndrome tends to cause an overbite for patients in their everyday life, the tongue, too, is pushed backwards to accommodate that overbite. Now, during the day, that is not an issue. However, while patients are asleep this becomes a problem as the tongue blocks and constricts the airway. And as for sleep apnea causing TMJ – it has been found that people who suffer from sleep disorders either clench their jaw or grind their teeth to find the best possible way to keep their airway open. In the long run, this irritates and inflames the joint, leading to TMJ.


For less serious cases of TMJ, some TLC is they way to go to treat the symptoms. Avoid chewing gum, eat soft foods only, avoid clenching or tensing the jaw, try gentle jaw exercises, or even something as simple as applying ice may help. For more serious cases, surgery may be necessary; however, you will need to consult your physician about this before taking any further steps. Many studies have shown the TMJ syndrome is often something that is easily fixed and shouldn’t last more than a few months.

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