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Up All Night? TMJ May be to Blame

If you’re not getting a good night’s sleep and can’t figure out why, temporomandibular joint disorder, more commonly known as TMJ, may be to blame. TMJ is a serious condition that is characterized by pain in the jaw joint and the muscles controlling jaw movement that can impact jaw mobility, and unbeknownst to many Americans, it could be the source of their sleep loss.  


The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites insufficient sleep or sleep loss as a serious public health concern. Not only does sleep loss lead to an increased risk for motor vehicles accidents and medical and occupational errors, but it’s also linked to chronic health conditions such as depression, hypertension, and diabetes. The CDC estimates that 50-70 million U.S adults have sleep or wakefulness disorders that directly impact sleep quality and quantity. But for people who struggle with sleep issues, what becomes even more frustrating is the inability to pinpoint the source of the problem. Losing sleep is often attributed to the usual suspects, including caffeine, a partner’s snoring, sickness, and stress. When those are eliminated as the cause of sleepiness, people very rarely assume the problem could be TMJ. Surprisingly, though, for many people, it is. In fact, a 2016 study published in the Journal of Oral & Facial Pain and Headache showed that patients with TMJ were more predisposed "to greater levels of sleepiness and poor sleep quality."  


The temporomandibular joint is an important joint that is responsible for our ability to chew, swallow and even yawn, and a problem with this joint can cause severe pain and discomfort in other parts of the body. Because our bodies are interconnected, TMJ can cause other serious conditions like sleep apnea, tension headaches and migraines and bruxism, also known as teeth grinding. This can all add up to a bad night’s sleep. Dr. David Buck, a neuromuscular dentist based in Washington state, has over 16 years of experience in treating TMJ patients. He recognizes how TMJ pain can begin in the jaw and facial areas but then transform and disperse through the body impacting it in a variety of ways.  


"The pain moves from a specific area [and changes] to fatigue, anxiety, depression, or general malaise throughout the whole body," Buck said.  "When we unravel that system and stabilize it, for those patients, all of that pain goes away, and they realize that was the source of the pain."


Once a patient identifies TMJ as the source of their sleep loss, the next step in the process is to treat the condition. Currently, the Mayo Clinic cites these treatment options for TMJ:


•Medication (including over-the-counter medications and muscle relaxants)

•Non-drug therapies (occlusal appliances and physical therapy)

•Surgical and other procedures

  • Arthrocentesis- a procedure that involves inserting small needles into the joint so fluid can be irrigated through the joint to remove debris and inflammatory byproducts.
  • Injections

•TMJ Arthroscopic surgery

•Open-joint surgery


•Relaxation techniques (breathing exercises to relieve stress and tension)


For some patients, current treatments do little to alleviate their symptoms, and they still find themselves tossing and turning at night. Buck explains how and why these treatment options fail and how is approach is different.


"For people that have TMJ, the conventional treatment is just a symptomatic treatment only, no curative treatment," Buck said. "Traditional orthodontics don’t offer a curative treatment for TMJ-related problems. So there’s a disconnect. With our approach, with a neuromuscular orthosis, we stabilize and allow the patient to regain a symptom-free quality of life."


A good night’s sleep is worth its weight in gold. So for people suffering from sleepiness who aren’t able to identify the root cause, talking to a medical professional about the possibility of TMJ could be a step in the right direction.

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Epigenetic Orthodontics can open and protect the airway enhancing breathing both during sleep and awake activities.

Dr. Buck practices a philosophy that integrates airway into all diagnosis and treatments. Dentistry has traditionally not considered the airway when planning dental treatments. Fortunately, today there is a rapidly growing movement that now recognizes how dentistry can have an impact on the airway which affects breathing during sleep. If dental treatments, including TMJ, orthopedic and orthodontics are well planned the result can be that the airway is protected or even enhanced. There is a clear link between underdeveloped and retruded jaws together with narrow dental arches that puts a patient at risk for sleep breathing disorders.

Please visit this site for more information; Airway Health

WOW! A 54% decrease in forward head posture; 164% increase in the antero-posterior size of the airway; 176% increase in the lateral size of the airway all from epigenetically centered jaw development orthopedics. This is the future of orthodontics!​