Sleep apnea, TMD, and headaches–can your dentist treat these disorders?  Believe it or not, dentists may be the most important part of screening and treating for these disorders. Dentists have the greatest access to evaluate new patients for sleep apnea, TMD, and headaches, as well as evaluating existing patients at recall exams.

In the past, there was a lack of training in the screening for headaches, TMD, and sleep apnea by doctors and dentists.  And for many years, different specialists have treated headaches, TMD, and sleep apnea as different entities.  Neurologists and pain management specialists treat pain in the head and neck.  Sleep specialists treat sleep. Dentists treat jaw joint disorders, often as a problem separate from the rest of the body.   In recent years, however, overlapping research in medicine and dentistry have shown us that none of these disorders exist separately from the other.  A study at Johns Hopkins University (published in SLEEP, vol. 32, No. 6, 2009) demonstrates an 88% overlap in headache, TMD, and sleep disordered breathing.

Currently, it is believed that 20-50% of the population suffers from sleep disordered breathing and that  90% of those people are undiagnosed.  People may suffer with headaches, TMD, and sleep apnea for years, often until symptoms of co-morbid problems arise, such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and oral manifestation of bruxism.  Night guards, often thought to be harmless, are now known to increase pathology.  A study in the International Journal of Prosthodontics in 2004 showed that 40% of the time, a night guard makes a person with apnea 50% worse.  This is why it is so important to have symptoms of pain and sleep evaluated together.  Similarly, we now know that certain headaches are the result of REM-related sleep disturbances and can be relieved by giving the patient oxygen as opposed to prescription medications.

The information above is taken from an article by Dr. Steven Olmos, DDS in Oral Health 8-2011.  Dr. Olmos is the founder of TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centres International and can be found at

If you are looking for a Kalamazoo dentist who treats all areas of dentistry, including sleep apnea, headaches, and TMD, request an appointment here: