If you have headaches and have been to doctors, but you still aren’t getting real relief, maybe you should see a dentist in Los Gatos. Headaches often start with sleeping problems or jaw problems. Sleep apnea and temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ) are common causes of chronic headaches. Doctors often overlook these potential headache causes when diagnosing the source of your headaches.

Here are seven things you should know about your sleep apnea and TMJ related headaches that can help you enjoy more pain-free days.

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1. What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is when your breathing stops during sleep. Your brain must awaken slightly to restart breathing. This might happen hundreds of times a night, even though you might never wake fully enough to realize it’s happening. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, where your airway collapses, cutting off your access to air. Essentially your own throat is strangling you.

Sleep apnea headaches often occur in the morning. In addition, sleep apnea is linked to cluster headaches and can increase the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches.

2. Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

In addition to headaches, people with sleep apnea often experience:

  • Loud snoring
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Wake to feel unrested despite a full night of sleep
  • Loss of energy
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Difficulty focusing, thinking, or remembering
  • Depression or irritability
  • Weight gain

Since many of these symptoms seem nonspecific and sleep apnea occurs during sleep, most people (perhaps 80-90%) with the condition are undiagnosed. If symptoms make you suspect sleep apnea, Los Gatos sleep dentist Dr. Nehawandian can help you get a sleep test for a positive diagnosis.

3. How We Treat Sleep Apnea

Most doctors in Los Gatos will prescribe CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) for sleep apnea. This is considered the “gold standard” of sleep apnea treatment. When people use CPAP regularly, it can essentially eliminate sleep apnea.

However, CPAP is inconvenient to use and difficult to sleep with for many people. Los Gatos sleep dentist Dr. Nehawandian offers a CPAP alternative: oral appliance therapy. Oral appliance therapy repositions your jaw to hold your airway open when you sleep.

4. What Is TMJ?

Your temporomandibular joints are on the sides of your face near your ears, and they allow smooth movement of your jaws. The result can be improper jaw movement, muscle strain, and pinched nerves if something goes wrong. We use the umbrella label TMJ (sometimes TMD or TMJD) to describe the dysfunction in these joints. TMJ can trigger pain, sometimes chronic pain, in your head, face, and neck. TMJ is linked to tension headaches and migraine headaches. Sometimes TMJ-related face pain is mistaken for sinus headaches.

Since much of the sensation in your face is supplied by the same nerves that control the temporomandibular joints, a TMJ disorder can also cause problems that seem unrelated to your jaws, like hearing or vision problems. Complex mechanical and biochemical relationships in the body can extend the impact through the body.

5. Symptoms of TMJ Disorder

In addition to headaches, some of the most common symptoms of TMJ disorder are:

  • Excessive wear or damage to teeth
  • Pain in the jaws when eating or chewing
  • Cracking or popping noises when you open your mouth
  • Soreness in and around the jaws
  • Frequent neck pain
  • Ear pain, congestion, or ringing in the ears
  • Difficulty opening the mouth, or occasional locked jaws

People often experience very different TMJ symptoms. If you have one or more of the above symptoms and headaches and some unexplained symptoms elsewhere in the body, you should talk to a dentist about whether TMJ might be the unifying factor.

6. How We Treat TMJ

TMJ treatment begins with a diagnosis. To determine what’s causing your jaw problem, Los Gatos dentist Dr. Nancy Nehawandian, trained in neuromuscular dentistry, uses a series of tests using electronic instruments that can indicate whether your bite is contributing to your headaches. If your habitual bite is a probable cause,  identifying your correct jaw position while your muscles are relaxed is the next step.

Once we determine your correct jaw position, the next step is keeping it that way for the long term. Los Gatos dentist Dr. Nehawandian might recommend orthotics to retrain jaw muscles, dental restorations to reshape teeth, or orthodontics to realign teeth or reshape the jaw.

7. Sleep Apnea and TMJ Often Occur Together

It is perhaps not surprising that these two headache causes linked to your jaw might also be connected. We don’t know exactly how often the two conditions co-occur, in part, because sleep apnea is so often undiagnosed. However, some people estimate that perhaps 75% of people with TMJ also have sleep apnea. This means that it’s important to get these conditions treated by someone who understands them both. That way, you can get a treatment that helps resolve headaches from both sources.

Resolve Your Headaches in Los Gatos

A dentist who is trained in neuromuscular dentistry can be thought of as a headache expert because they have specific knowledge about TMJ disorders and the skills to treat them. If you suspect that you might have TMJ disorder, contact our Los Gatos dental office, located near the south entrance to Vasona Lake County Park.