As the 2 Works for You dentist, Dr. Kevin Winters was asked about sensations of clenching teeth and headaches upon awakening in the morning. These are common symptoms of TMJ, temporomandibular joint disorder, and can be resolved with treatment. However, they may also be related to sleep apnea, so it’s important to understand the conditions.
TMJ, Sleep, and Muscle Rest Position
In TMJ, your jaw is unable to find a comfortable rest position that puts all the elements–teeth, bones, joints, and muscles at rest at the same time. Because they can’t find a good, restful position, your jaw muscles are constantly straining, even at night, while you’re sleeping.
The straining of your muscles causes you to clench your teeth together, sometimes even to grind them back and forth, trying to find the proper occlusion (the way that teeth fit together) to maximize rest. This can lead to damage to the teeth and the jaw joints. It definitely leads to jaw pain from your strained muscles. It also leads to headaches, too, because your jaw muscles are straining the rest of the muscles in your head, and the jaw muscles themselves extend to attach just behind your eye on either side.
But What about Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea can also cause you to clench your jaws at night and develop morning headaches. Obstructive sleep apnea–the most common form–occurs when your airway collapses during sleep. This cuts off your supply of air, so your body has to partially awaken The jaw is one of the primary supports for your airway, the only major bony support, in fact. When your airway collapses and the brain awakens to restore air, your jaw will often clench to help support the airway.
This repeated clenching of the jaw can make your jaw feel sore in the morning, and the repeated awakenings and oxygen shortages will give you a headache.
Which Is Responsible for Your Problem?
Distinguishing between sleep apnea and TMJ can be difficult. With TMJ, you will likely experience jaw pain at other points in the day, and may also clench during the day. Headaches may also persist or trigger again later in the day. Watch out for other TMJ symptoms like jaw sounds, tinnitus, vertigo, neck pain, and upper back pain.
Sleep apnea headaches tend to disperse within a short period of wakening. You may not have jaw pain during the day, but you’ll notice other symptoms of sleep apnea, such as daytime sleepiness, fatigue, a lack of energy, and possibly several other related health conditions.
Of course, it’s possible–quite likely, even–that you have both conditions. Malposition of the jaw that can contribute to TMJ can also make the airway narrow and more likely to collapse at night.
The only way to tell for sure what’s causing your jaw pain and headaches is to talk to a dentist who is skilled in diagnosing the conditions. If you are looking for a Tulsa dentist who can help make this distinction, please call (918) 528-3330 today for an appointment at Winters Dental Excellence.