Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea May Reduce TMJ Pain, New Study Shows

Although the name of our practice highlights Dr. Abdulla’s expertise in treating obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) holistically, she is just as expert in the treatment of TMJ disorders (TMDs).

Frankly, we think it’s only right that a dentist who’s well-versed in one of these conditions should be equally well-versed in the other. As we’ve noted before, OSA and TMDs often accompany each other. TMDs are more common in patients with apnea. Apnea can make TMD symptoms worse – and vice versa.

But these facts also raise an interesting question: Could treating one condition help improve the other? If the results of a recent study in the journal Sleep and Breathing hold up, the answer appears to be yes – at least with respect to OSA treatment.

Forty adult patients with sleep apnea, mostly men, took part. At the start, each underwent a sleep test and an evaluation of their temporomandibular joints (TMJ). Thirty-three patients chose to have their OSA treated – some with oral appliance therapy, some with CPAP, some with surgical or other interventions. One third of them also presented with a painful TMJ disorder.

A year and a half later, all patients were tested again. The results were stunning.

Nearly three-quarters of those with both OSA and TMD who completed the study experienced significantly less TMJ-related pain. Just over half no longer experienced any TMJ pain at all. The rest experienced at least one level of improvement on the composite pain index (CPI) used to measure the intensity of their pain.

As for the 22 patients with no TMJ pain at the start, nearly all remained TMD-free, with 2 developing a mild TMD. Unsurprisingly, those who chose not to have their apnea treated or discontinued treatment generally experienced no changes in their condition.

The results of the present study show that OSA treatment provides a significant reduction in pain-related TMD and headache attributed to TMD in patients suffering from both OSA and TMD, without providing any treatment for TMD. The present findings are in agreement with a recent study demonstrating that treatment with MAD is beneficial in reducing headache intensity in patients with OSA…. [emphasis added]

“MAD” stands for mandibular advancement device, which is the main type of oral appliance used to treat obstructive sleep apnea dentally. These appliances work by holding the jaw in a more optimal, forward position so the airway remains open. They effectively neutralize one of the most common causes of obstruction: the lower jaw or tongue falling back, partially blocking the airway as the body relaxes into sleep.

The present findings suggest that TMDs should be routinely assessed in the OSA diagnostic and treatment processes, and that OSA treatment may be provided for reducing both OSA and pain related TMDs in patients presenting both conditions.

Indeed, when a patient comes into our office for their first visit, we make a point of asking them about symptoms of both conditions, as well as evaluate their jaw joints . These are basic elements of every new patient exam. Knowing if and when OSA and TMD are occurring together lets Dr. Abdulla customize a treatment plan that will best address both issues.

Often, as the study above shows, simply treating the apnea can sometimes be enough to eradicate any TMJ-related pain.

But each patient is different and needs to be seen and treated as an individual, based on their unique needs. That’s another thing you can’t find in just any dental office. But you can find it here at the Laguna Hills Center for Sleep Apnea & CPAP Intolerance.

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