Airway obstruction As a Causative Agent for Temporomandibular Joint Pain

Published on: 2018/05/01

Dr. Kathy Berguland


Disorders of the TMJ affect millions of people around the world, over 30 million in the United States alone, with many of the causative agents unexplained. The commonly used term for TMJ pain and dysfunction is temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD), going beyond reports of pain to encompass all dysfunctions of the masticatory system.

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Airway obstruction and temporomandibular joint pain, TMJ, TMD

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What causes TMJ obstruction?

The jaw and the skull are joined by a hinge-like structure called the temporomandibular joint. When this joint gets injured or damaged, it causes a localized pain, which is called Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ).

There are several triggers that may cause the Temporomandibular joint syndrome. It may be due to injury to teeth or jaw, misalignment of teeth or jaw, poor posture, arthritis.

Some people who tend to clench or grind their teeth often are prone to develop TMJ. In most of the cases, the pain associated with TMJ is temporary and can be cured using non-surgical treatments. Surgery is seen as the last resort to deal with TMJ. However, many people claim to benefit greatly from surgery.

Pain or tenderness of the jaw, pain in temporomandibular joints, pain around the ears, difficulty or pain while chewing, facial pain, locked joints that make it difficult to have regular jaw movements are some of the symptoms of TMJ disorder. Some patients experience clicking sounds or a grating sensation when they open their mouth or chew. In the absence of pain in these cases, they may not need treatment for a TMJ disorder.

People who suffer from arthritis, or have experienced previous jaw injury, people who have the long-term habit of grinding or clenching teeth may be at the risk of developing TMJ. Stress plays a role in increasing muscle tension around the jaw as it’s in the human nature to clench jaw when stressed. People who have a genetic predisposition to pain sensitivity and higher levels of stress responses are more susceptible. Women in the age range of 18-44 have an increased risk to develop TMJ.

TMJ and Sleep apnea

Patients with TMJ may experience difficulty breathing and sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a dangerous condition to have.  It can cause high blood pressure, carbon dioxide retention, heart attack, and early death. A person suffering from sleep apnea is unable to sleep well due to the obstruction of the airways.

The lack of oxygen to the body makes the heart pump blood with more intensity. When the oxygen intake becomes lower and CO2 levels increase, the body sends the signal to the brain, which tried to bring the tongue forward making the person, grit or clench his teeth and eventually wake up. This is a normal defense mechanism adopted by the body. The constant grinding or clenching of teeth caused by sleep apnea due to airway obstruction could lead to Temporomandibular joint pain.

Sleep issues like snoring, restlessness, restless leg syndrome, sleep talking, and excessive daytime sleep needs to be taken seriously as they may point at some underlying health condition which may need immediate attention.

Read more – A case study on airway obstruction as a causative agent for temporomandibular joint pain by Dr. Kathy Berguland