TMJ and Sleep

It is estimated that more than 10 million people in the United States suffer from TMJ problems and jaw pain related headaches. Most of those people spend years and thousands of dollars searching for answers. Some are prescribed one or more medications with significant side effects. Often, many are​ told that it’s a psychological problem, and they need to learn to live with it. In fact, many dentists and even doctors have very little to no education regarding TMJ in dental or medical school, and the information they might have received was probably outdated.


Sleep Apnea and TMJ

The latest research indicates that many TMJ problems are caused by untreated sleep apnea. As your body struggles to breathe at night, it activates jaw muscles to keep the airway open—sort of doing its own CPR. You may have experienced this and wakened with your jaws clenched. Or maybe you were told that you grind your teeth at night. This behavior, once attributed to stress, could actually be your body’s way of keeping you alive by preventing suffocation.

TMJ Disorders

Talk about stress! Depending on the severity of your sleep apnea, this can happen more than a hundred times a night, creating damage to jaw joints and causing muscle overload. Some people can even end up with severe joint disease or even a locked jaw. Your jaw can be stuck in an open position, so it can’t be fully closed, or stuck closed, so that you can’t open up wide.


Do you have to smash down a sandwich in order to take a bite? If you do, you might have a TMJ​ problem. A normal opening would allow you to place 3 vertical fingers in your mouth—just wash your hands first please!

The great news is that a dentist with extensive training in sleep-disordered breathing and orofacial pain can recognize this problem and provide treatment that will manage both sleep apnea and TMJ problems.

Sleep Disorder

There are many clues in your mouth that allow an experienced dentist to suspect your TMJ problems are related to sleep problems such as tongue shape, size, and posture; teeth wear; upper and lower jawbones shape and size; and soft tissues inside and outside the mouth. All these structures are evaluated by a knowledgeable dentist to help them design a proper course of action for YOUR specific needs.

A properly designed, custom oral appliance can stabilize the jaw, optimize the flow of air, take the load of the joints and allow the muscles to relax at night, all at the same time. Talk about multi-tasking! This way, you can help both TMJ and sleep problems with one device!

It’s also important to know that a mouthguard made without these considerations can actually make it harder for you to breathe at night and should be avoided. If you are suffering from TMJ and jaw pain, don’t be surprised if your experienced dentist talks to you about your sleep quality. You might be overusing your jaw at night as your body struggles to prevent choking.

It is always best to treat the cause of the problem and not just the symptom. If your jaw pain is caused by sleep apnea, both of these conditions should be treated for the best results—no more pain and better, more restful, refreshing sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions - TMJ and Sleep

TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. It is the joint that connects your jaw to your skull. When this joint is not functioning properly, it can cause pain and discomfort, leading to difficulties in getting quality sleep.

While TMJ itself may not directly cause sleep apnea, it can contribute to sleep problems such as snoring and airway obstruction, which are common symptoms of sleep apnea.

TMJ can cause pain and discomfort in the jaw joint, making it difficult to relax and find a comfortable sleep position. This can result in sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality.

Treatment options for TMJ-related sleep problems may include oral appliance therapy, jaw exercises, pain management techniques, and addressing any underlying dental or orthodontic issues.

Yes, with proper treatment and management, TMJ pain and sleep problems can be alleviated. It is important to consult with a dentist like BCOH or a sleep therapy Centre specializing in TMJ treatment for personalized solutions.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and TMJ pain often coexist. OSA can cause disturbances in sleep patterns, leading to increased clenching and grinding of the teeth, which can worsen TMJ symptoms.

By addressing the underlying TMJ issues, such as jaw misalignment or teeth grinding (bruxism), TMJ treatment can help alleviate pain and discomfort, resulting in improved sleep quality.

Yes, TMJ pain and sleep problems can lead to daytime fatigue due to disrupted sleep patterns and chronic pain. Treating TMJ can help reduce fatigue and enhance overall well-being.

Yes, maintaining good sleep hygiene, practicing stress management techniques, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and using a comfortable pillow can all contribute to better sleep for patients with TMJ.

It is possible for sleep deprivation to contribute to the development of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
Lack of sleep can lead to increased muscle tension and stress, which can in turn exacerbate the symptoms of TMJ.
When a person is sleep-deprived, their body may not have enough time to repair and regenerate its tissues properly, including the muscles and joints in the jaw.
Additionally, sleep deprivation can result in a weakened immune system, making a person more susceptible to infections or inflammation in the jaw joint.
It is also worth noting that sleep deprivation can cause bruxism, or teeth grinding, which is a known risk factor for TMJ.
Therefore, by promoting good sleep hygiene and ensuring an adequate amount of sleep each night, individuals can potentially reduce their risk of developing or worsening TMJ symptoms. 

TMJ and Sleep - True-or-False Quiz

1- **True or False: TMJ stands for “Temporomandibular Joint,” a small joint in front of your ear.

True. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located in front of your ear and plays a crucial role in jaw movement.
Explanation: This statement is true. The TMJ is indeed the temporomandibular joint, which is positioned in front of the ear.

2- **True or False: TMJ disorder always causes pain.

False. While pain is a common symptom of TMJ disorder, not everyone with TMJ disorder experiences pain. Other symptoms like jaw stiffness, clicking, or difficulty opening the mouth may also occur.
Explanation: This statement is false. TMJ disorder can present with various symptoms beyond pain.

3- **True or False: TMJ exercises can help reduce pain and improve jaw movement.

True. Certain TMJ exercises recommended by a dentist or healthcare provider can stretch and strengthen the jaw muscles, providing pain relief and enhancing jaw mobility.
Explanation: This statement is true. TMJ exercises can be an effective way to alleviate pain and improve jaw function.

4- **True or False: A dentist may prescribe stronger pain medication for severe TMJ pain.

True. In cases of severe pain, a dentist or healthcare professional may prescribe stronger pain medication to help manage TMJ-related discomfort.
Explanation: This statement is true. Dentists may provide stronger pain relief options when necessary.

5- **True or False: TMJ arthroscopy is a non-surgical procedure that allows doctors to view and treat TMJ issues.

False. TMJ arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure used to diagnose and treat TMJ disorders by accessing the joint with small incisions.
Explanation: This statement is false. TMJ arthroscopy involves a surgical approach.

6- **True or False: Everyone affected by temporomandibular disorders requires surgical treatment.

False. Many people with TMJ disorders can find relief through non-surgical methods, such as lifestyle changes, exercises, or oral appliances. Surgery is typically considered when conservative treatments are ineffective.
Explanation: This statement is false. Surgery is not necessary for everyone with TMJ disorders.

7- **True or False: Over-the-counter pain relievers may help alleviate pain and inflammation associated with TMJ disorders.

True. Over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can temporarily relieve pain and reduce inflammation in TMJ disorder cases.
Explanation: This statement is true. Over-the-counter pain relievers can provide short-term relief.

8- **True or False: TMJ disorders can affect sleep quality due to discomfort and pain.

True. TMJ disorders can indeed disrupt sleep quality as they may cause pain and discomfort, especially when lying down.
Explanation: This statement is true. TMJ disorders can lead to sleep disturbances.

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