If you’ve recently been diagnosed with TMJ disorder, you may have noticed that sleeping can be a big challenge. It causes tremendous amounts of jaw pain that can lead to headaches, earaches, and even pain behind the eyes.

Sure, you can treat TMJ pain with over-the-counter medications, but it’ll quickly come back since you’re not addressing the underlying issue. If left untreated, you’ll just end up grinding your teeth which can cause damage to your teeth and joints.

So Can You use an oral sleep apnea device even if you have a TMJ disorder?

Yes. TMJ disorders do not exclude a patient from the use of an oral appliance. There are some disorders that need to be addressed before the sleep apnea treatment, but in most cases, the TMJ condition is treated at the same time as the Sleep Apnea is being treated. In fact, one of the most widely used FDA and Medicare-approved devices initially was developed for the treatment of TMJ disorders.

For years, I’ve struggled with TMJ disorder, and once I’ve started using a mouthguard and other occlusal appliances, I was able to alleviate the pain and sleep soundly. After doing some research, I was able to come up with why that is the case.

We’ll discuss the benefits of oral sleep apnea devices and which types are best suited for your TMJ disorder.

What is an Oral Sleep Apnea Device and How Does It Help My TMJ Disorder?

A TMJ disorder is when you experience discomfort in your jaw. You may notice a clicking sound or even struggle to open your mouth since the joints feel locked up. Sleep apnea is a particular condition that causes you to stop breathing for short periods while sleeping.

An oral sleep apnea device looks nearly identical to mouth guards. These devices help to treat sleep apnea. This occurs when the upper airways are blocked during sleep, causing you to stop breathing.

Many dentists will prescribe a form of an oral device called MAD to help with sleep apnea.

MAD’s are devices that are custom-made to fit into a specific person’s mouth. This oral appliance works by moving the tongue and jaw forward upon use. When the jaw is moved forward, the airway is held open so that you can breathe better. It also holds the tongue to prevent it from falling backward, which would obstruct airways. This drastically reduces throat restriction and prevents potential sleep apnea.

Many people incorrectly assume that they can’t use oral dental appliances due to their TMJ disorder. Many people have been successful in treating their TMJ disorder and improving their sleep through dental sleep appliances. Your dentist may give you various appliances to try on to test out which is most comfortable for you.

Is TMJ and Sleep Apnea Correlated?

TMJ and sleep apnea are conditions that are usually correlated and reinforce one another. One wellness center found that 52% of people with sleep apnea suffer from TMJ, and 75% of people with TMJ get sleep apnea.

Once you experience sleep apnea symptoms, it can lead to further TMJ damage. Breathing through your mouth causes you to clench your jaw, damaging its joints.

Those who struggle with TMJ first usually restrict the airway because the jaw is shifting backward. The physical misalignment of your jaw blocks the airway causing sleep apnea. Although TMJ can go away on its own, dealing with the pain can be incredibly difficult. There are pain-relieving medications and exercises you can do to help improve TMJ. However, the best solution to help with sleep while suffering TMJ is using mouth guards and oral splints.

Types of Oral Sleep Apnea Devices

The best treatment to help with obstructive sleep apnea due to TMJ will vary depending on various factors. This includes your upper airway’s physical structure, the severity of your problem, your personal preference, and any other existing medical problems you have.

CPAP

A CPAP machine compressor generates a continuous stream of air from an air filter into a flexible tube. Then the air travels into a mask that is sealed around your mouth or nose. These devices ensure that you have an ample supply of oxygen in your body while you’re sleeping. CPAP machines can be a great alternative to a mouth device oral appliance because they won’t push your jaw forward or affect the position of your jaw.

You simply place the mask over your mouth while you sleep. The downside of using these machines is that they may cause difficulty and discomfort in falling asleep, especially in the beginning.

Mandibular Advancement Device

Mandibular repositioning devices are designed to fix sleep apnea symptoms, especially from TMJ disorder, by gently shifting the jaw forward. This prevents the soft tissues in your throat and mouth from collapsing into the airway.

They look similar to a mouth guard that is used in sports. These contraptions snap over the lower and upper dental arches and have metal hinges to allow your lower jaw to move forward.

Tongue Retaining Device

Tongue retaining devices are used to keep the tongue in a neutral position so that it won’t block the airway. This device is usually a desirable treatment option if you’re unable to tolerate a mouth guard or CPAP.

Which One is Right for Me?

Typically, you’ll work with a doctor and a sleep dentist to help you decide the best oral sleep apnea device designed for your condition. First, your doctor needs to make sure you are a candidate for oral appliance therapy. From there, you’ll be directed to a sleep dentist to determine the right appliance after performing a short examination. A dentist will perform an impression of your teeth and jaw, send their findings to a lab, and see what is best for you.

Costs for Sleep Apnea Treatment

Typically the average cost for sleep apnea treatment costs between $1,800 to $2,000. However, often your insurance will partially or fully cover these expenses. This price includes the dental visits and mouthpieces required, such as adjustments and modifications to the device.

Is it Comfortable?

The level of comfort is unique to the individual. However, most people adapt to using an oral sleep apnea device very well. Eventually, it’ll become a routine, and you won’t want to sleep without it since it makes you feel better.

Many dental appliances are adjustable, allowing you to move your jaw forward gradually without discomfort. It’ll allow you to adjust the device into a comfortable setting. However, ultimately you’ll have to speak with a dentist to see if wearing a dental sleep apnea device is right for you.

Although most appliances adjust the jaw, some devices have little effect on your jaw. Some oral sleep apnea devices work by controlling your tongue without having to move your jaw.

Do I Need a Custom Oral Device?

Although there are oral sleep apnea devices that you can purchase through an advertisement on television or any store, a dental appliance that is custom-fitted to your jaw and mouth size will ensure that it is effective and comfortable.

Oral devices that are one-size-fits-all are usually much larger, making the device less effective because it may obstruct your throat’s airway during sleep. Since they’re not adjustable, this leads to pain and discomfort.

When looking for an oral appliance, it’s best to have it custom-fitted and prescribed by a dentist. This ensures that you have proper guidance and medical supervision. Ideally, you want to see a dentist who has a specialty in sleep medicine, and they should also make the device.

How Long Do These Devices Last?

The longevity of these oral appliances will depend on the care of the devices, forces placed on it, how it was made and the person using it. If well maintained, these appliances can easily last between two to five years before a replacement is needed. Your medical insurance provider will usually pay for the construction of the new oral sleep apnea device.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, TMJ disorder can cause a lot of pain and sleepless nights. However, oral sleep apnea devices can successfully treat TMJ and help supply ample oxygen into your body. Getting more oxygen while you sleep helps improve overall sleep quality, mood and increase stamina throughout the day. Make sure to see your doctor and call us at Jeremy J. Abbott to see if a dental appliance is right for you and get custom-fitted for one.