Think of Airway, Bruxism and Craniofacial Pain. What do these words have in common? From just the words, it looks like they are three completely different terms. And, other than the first letter of each word being ABC, these areas have a lot more in common than you may realize. With advancements in research, we continue to learn more about the connection between sleep apnea (the airway), bruxism and craniofacial pain (TMD). For these reasons, dentists should educate themselves on each area for increased patient care.

Why are the ABCs so Important?

Think about it. What do you know what dental sleep medicine, etiologies of bruxism or craniofacial pain conditions, such as TMD? Odds are you might know little to nothing about each and that’s ok. A majority of dentists know little to nothing about these areas of dental specialty, so you’re not alone. However, because of this, dentists are unable to recognize the risk of sleep apnea, let alone manage patients with oral appliances. Let’s do something about this.

This is the same for craniofacial pain and bruxism. While bruxism may be noticed more often than sleep apnea or craniofacial pain, it is often overlooked. By taking the steps toward a better understanding of the unique connections between the airway, bruxism, craniofacial pain and other conditions, dentists can create endless opportunities for services in diagnosis and treatment options within their practice. Let’s examine the ABCs of advanced dental services…

Airway (Sleep Apnea)

The ‘A’ in the ABCs stands for “Airway”, which is commonly referred to in sleep disordered breathing disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Dental practices are in a unique position to identify patients at risk for conditions involving the airway. Understanding the airway and how it can affect a patient’s sleeping patterns due to sleep apnea and other sleep disordered breathing conditions is vital in maintaining your patients’ health and improving service offerings. It can also help in treating other conditions when there is a clear link available (trust me, there are connections).


Let’s refresh your memory. Bruxism is the gnashing and grinding of teeth that occurs without a functional purpose. When a patient is suffering from bruxism, it can cause a lot of problems (as you know). Whether it is due to a nervous habit, stress or unknowingly grinding teeth at night, bruxism can cause damage to not only a patient’s teeth, but their overall health as well. Due to the breakage of dental restorations from bruxism, tooth damage, induction of temporal headaches and temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) can occur. From one condition (bruxism), so many other complications can occur, which means we need to take charge and continue our education immediately.

Craniofacial Pain (TMD)

We come full circle with craniofacial pain, as it covers a wide spectrum of symptoms exhibited in many areas of the head and neck. In particular, a majority of craniofacial pain complications can be associated with temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). Can you see the pattern? Because of this, an essential part of routine dental examinations for all patients should include an evaluation for TMD, including a patient’s history, clinical examination, and imaging when appropriate.

Connect the Conditions

There appears to be an apparent relationship in some individuals between the airway, bruxism and craniofacial pain. While it might not be found in every patient, there are still some individuals requiring further attention because there is an apparent connection. As a dentist, it is important to understand that clenching or grinding of one’s teeth can be a way for the brain to protect itself from suffocation during sleep–it connects the ABCs.

Each condition might be a sign of deeper complications, but what can you do about it? Educate yourself by completing continuing education courses and attending lectures or seminars. While it might not occur in every case, it is vital that we as dentists understand it for those certain individuals suffering from all three conditions. For more information, please contact my office or visit my lectures page to find the next available educational course for your needs.