Can orthodontics help sleep issues?

Orthodontic treatment is about more than just straightening your teeth. It has a variety of benefits beyond just what’s in your mouth. And one of those benefits is a better night’s sleep. Treatments such as braces are shown to have positive effects on your overall health, and that includes combating disorders that prevent you from getting a satisfying sleep. Periago Orthodontics wants you to enjoy the nighttime benefits of orthodontic treatment. So let’s examine all the ways your sleep can improve with help from your orthodontists.

What’s TMJ? Is it the same thing as TMD?

These two abbreviations are often used interchangeably, even by some professionals. But these are not the same things. TMJ stands for the temporomandibular joint. These are the hinge points that connect our jawbones to our heads. This mobile joint is located directly in front of the ears, rotating and gliding while acting as a powerful hinge at the same time. This mobility allows us the ability to do things like speak, yawn, and chew our food properly.

The TMJ is surrounded by a number of complex protectors like muscles, tendons, and joint pads. These components work together most of the time, but if anything obstructs them, the result is a range of symptoms. That’s where TMD comes in. Temporomandibular disorders are a group of conditions that involve issues with your TMJ and the facial muscles that control its movement. Symptoms for these disorders can flare up in any interconnected parts of your upper body, including your jaw, ears, nose, face, neck, shoulders, and upper back. These often include:

  • Pain or tenderness in the jaw, face, or neck
  • Persistent headaches
  • Backaches
  • Clicking, popping or grating sounds in your jaw
  • Decreased jaw mobility and trouble opening your mouth fully
  • Jaws that get locked in an open or closed position

If you’ve been experiencing any of these symptoms, we encourage you to schedule a consultation with us to get a proper diagnosis and discuss the available treatment options.

How TMD can affect your sleep

Most patients with TMD experience discomfort when they sleep. Recent studies have even revealed a link between TMD and sleep apnea, which occurs when the airway becomes obstructed as a person is sleeping. When oxygen is cut off, your brain signals the information to your heart to keep beating, causing the person to gasp or choke for breath. This process can repeat hundreds of times per night, all the while interrupting your sleep. While it’s uncommon for people to awaken during an episode of apnea entirely, the disruption is often enough to obstruct your sleeping patterns.

Sleep apnea can be caused by a misaligned jaw joint causing the tongue to block the airway at night. In this case, treating TMD can also treat sleep apnea! Bruxism, or teeth grinding. Bruxism occurs when your jaw muscles clench, exerting pressure on the teeth, jaw, and joints. Teeth grinding can exacerbate the joints and teeth damage and may even wake you from a sound sleep at times.

TMD symptoms can be worsened by certain sleeping positions too. Sleeping on your side without proper head and neck support can pressure the jaw joint, causing headaches and pain upon waking. If you sleep with your arms above your head, it can increase strain in the shoulder area. According to many TMD patients, the best sleeping position is on your back because it reduces tension by keeping the spine in a neutral position.


Your temporomandibular joints connect your lower jawbone to your skull. You use these joints throughout your day when you speak, chew, swallow, and yawn. Pain in and around these joints can be unpleasant and may even restrict movement. However, not all jaw pain is associated with TMD. If you notice any pain in addition to ear ringing, head, and neck aches, clicking or popping sounds in your jaw, muscle spasms, alignment changes, or lockjaw, tell Dr. Periago and our team at your next appointment. We can help determine if you have TMD and create a personalized treatment plan to help relieve your symptoms.

Most people get TMD without ever having braces. Symptoms can come and go regardless of whether braces are worn, but there are solutions if you find yourself experiencing any issues. If you do not have TMD, there are many different preventative steps you can take to maintain a healthy, comfortable smile:

  • Relax your face – “Lips together, teeth apart.”
  • Avoid grinding your teeth
  • Avoid all gum-chewing
  • Chew foods even on both sides of your mouth
  • Do not sit with your chin resting on your hand
  • Practice good posture – keep your head up, back straight, and shoulders squared
  • Do not cradle the phone receiver between your head and shoulder

Other orthodontic treatment options besides braces

Everyone has different needs when it comes to addressing their sleeping problems. And so, we are able to utilize more than just traditional metal braces for some mouth and jaw issues that are disrupting your sleep. There are other options available if you want something different than braces.

A Rapid Palate Expander, or RPE, is a device placed on the roof of the mouth and used to widen the upper jaw. This option is used as a treatment for children since their mouths and palate are still not fully formed and can easily be manipulated. If a child’s mouth is not wide enough to accommodate the adult teeth, this RPE can be used without braces to provide spacing support for those teeth to properly grow. This palate expander creates space allowing better airflow through the mouth, helping ease or prevent sleep apnea.

Another option is using custom oral appliances to help keep your jaw in a forward position and keep airflow undisrupted. There are two different methods of custom oral therapy with only slight differences. The first option is a tongue-retaining mouthpiece, which has an extra piece to help position your tongue correctly. The second option is the mandibular advancement device which moves your lower jaw forward and tightens the soft tissues of the upper airway, preventing airway obstruction.

What are the treatment options for TMD?

Luckily, many people with TMD will experience minor symptoms that generally resolve on their own within a few weeks or months. During this time, you can ease symptoms by:

  • Eating softer foods
  • Applying ice or moist heat to the affected area
  • Avoiding extreme jaw movements like wide yawning
  • Taking smaller bites of food
  • Alternating chewing on each side of your mouth
  • Exploring gentle stress-relief techniques

TMD can happen due to arthritis, injury, or an imbalance in the nerves, ligaments, and muscles. It’s important to receive a proper diagnosis before deciding what to do next. This is why our doctors will conduct a thorough TMJ examination if you’re showing any symptoms. Dr. Periago will assess the cause and diagnose TMD, and then our team will develop a personalized treatment plan to help alleviate your discomfort. We take a rigorous multidisciplinary approach with the goal to use less invasive treatments.

These non-invasive treatments will not cause any permanent changes to the structure or position of your jaw or teeth. Even patients with more severe TMD symptoms won’t need aggressive treatment. TMD treatment options may include oral appliances like custom-made mouthguards combined with physical therapy, trigger point injections, or injections with botulinum toxin. Our orthodontists may recommend orthodontic treatment like braces or Invisalign® clear aligners if you need your bite corrected to minimize or eliminate TMD symptoms.

Give your child’s smile the best start at Periago Orthodontics

You deserve a good night’s sleep, and we’re here to help you. An experienced orthodontist like Dr. Periago can identify and correct any potential sleeping problems using the appropriate orthodontic tools.

If you’re looking to improve your sleep with orthodontics, we’d love to meet you both and take a look at how their smile is developing! Get in touch today to schedule a FREE consultation with Dr. Periago in New Albany, Corydon, or Floyds Knobs.