The Link Between Sleep Apnea And Oral Health

img Adrian Martinez imgOctober 15, 2020

It might sound odd that your dentist can detect whether you suffer from a health
condition, but once you understand the relationship between sleep apnea and your oral
wellness, the connection becomes clear. Sleep apnea causes side effects that dentists
will notice during a patient’s teeth cleaning. To learn more about this disorder and how it
affects your oral health, keep reading:

The disorder of sleep apnea is caused when someone experiences breathing
interruptions while they’re unconscious; this can result from a large tongue, a small jaw,
or flaccid throat muscles. An apnea is a breathing interruption. When the airway is
restricted by compression or blockage, breathing stops for several seconds or minutes.
Certain risk factors make it more likely for someone to have sleep apnea, including
obesity, a large neck circumference, and/or a family history of the disorder. Be mindful
of the telltale symptoms of this condition: daytime sleepiness, snoring, and/or teeth
grinding (bruxism).

Sleep apnea affects up to 22 million Americans and is more common in men than
women. When sleep apnea goes undiagnosed and untreated (as it does for 10% of
sufferers), it impacts daily life as well as overall and oral health. It is a serious condition
that isn’t easy to spot. The consequences of this disorder range from heart failure to
fatality. There are three different kinds of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) results when the airway is blocked. People suffer from
CSA when there’s an issue with the parts of the brain that control respiratory muscles.
Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of both issues.

Often, it is dentists who first notice that a patient is suffering from sleep apnea. People
often see their dentist more frequently than their healthcare provider; they schedule
cleanings twice a year, but a check-up just once a year. Many dentists ask their patients
about their sleep quality and if they get headaches to spot symptoms of this condition.
Dentistry and migraines are related – bruxism, a common symptom of sleep apnea,
causes headaches due to the muscle tension in the jaw. While a dentist cannot
diagnose sleep apnea, they can refer the patient to a medical professional who can.

One study found a link between sleep apnea and gum disease. When someone
experiences an apnea, they open their mouths in an attempt to breathe. The lack of
saliva causes dry mouth, allowing plaque to build up on the teeth and turn into tartar.
The stress of sleep apnea causes many patients to grind their teeth during their sleep –

it wears down the enamel and causes cracks or broken teeth. When a dentist notices
that their patient has worn-down teeth, they may ask further questions to determine if
sleep apnea is the cause. The field of dentistry is learning more about sleep apnea and
developing questionnaires for dentists to ask their patients. After a patient is determined
to be at risk, the dentist will typically recommend a sleep study.

If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, or your dentist has recommended that
you visit a sleep clinic for testing, there are treatments available to help your condition.
The most popular is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure or CPAP; it’s a machine that
gives the patient steady oxygen throughout the night. Those with a moderate form of the
condition can benefit from oral appliances, which prevent the collapse of the airway.
Others find that the use of special pillows or sleeping on their side helps with sleep
apnea. The owner of Stem Cell Lift has found that medicinal uses of Botox are providing
relief to those with sleep apnea and bruxism. The owner said, “A lot of our patients
choose Botox to help manage the side effects of their condition. People who suffer from
bruxism receive Botox injections in their jaw to block nerve signals from the masseter
muscles and prevent them from clenching. More medical research is being done to
further our knowledge on this subject.” In severe cases where other treatments are
ineffective, upper airway surgery may be required.

Treating sleep apnea can improve a patient’s oral health. When they do not sleep with
their mouths open, their teeth will be protected by saliva. A dentist can create a night
guard that will save their patient’s enamels from the pressure of grinding. Without
treatment, sleep apnea can create health problems that go beyond oral wellness; it puts
someone at higher risk for a stroke or heart attack. If you share a bed with someone
who snores or ceases to breathe for periods at night, suggest that they talk to their
dentist or doctor about sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a common condition that isn’t easy for people to identify in themselves;
since apneas occur while the patient is unconscious, it’s difficult for them to determine
that they suffer from it. Dentists that are educated about the side effects can spot this
disorder in their patients and recommend them to the appropriate testing and treatment.
In the end, it’s just another reason why you should regularly visit your dentist.

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