Published: 12/06/2018

Almost everyone has heard of the common condition known as sleep apnea, where a sleeping person repeatedly stops breathing for prolonged periods. As we know, this condition can be fairly serious and can have adverse effects on a person’s health. We are well aware that sleep apnea can lead to depression, mental confusion, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, low blood oxygen levels, and more. What many people do not realize is that sleep apnea can affect your oral health as well. We will take a look at exactly what sleep apnea is, how it can affect your dental health and the treatment options that are available so that you can be prepared to speak with your dentist about this condition.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Man sleeping wearing a CPAP mask to help his sleep apnea

Photo of a man sleeping while wearing a CPAP mask.

To begin, let’s discuss the condition itself. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects thousands of people. Those with the disorder stop and start breathing many times while they are asleep, sometimes for several minutes at a time. The affected person often wakes up feeling quite tired, even to the point of exhaustion, and other’s report hearing loud snoring. A person with sleep apnea is also known to gasp loudly during sleep, experience morning headaches, have an unusually dry mouth and suffer from insomnia and hypersomnia. Although sleep apnea can affect anyone, those who are most at risk include people who are overweight or obese, those who have a small lower jaw, people who regularly consume alcohol before going to sleep, those with large tonsils or a large neck circumference, and those who suffer from hypothyroidism. The three types are obstructive, central, and complex sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is common, and it happens when the muscles in the throat relax. In the case of central sleep apnea, the muscles that control sleeping are not receiving proper messages from the sleeping person’s brain. Finally, complex sleep apnea syndrome is a combination of the two. Your doctor may recommend a sleep study to determine if you have sleep apnea and to diagnose the type.

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

Those who suspect that they or someone close to them may have sleep apnea are often left wondering how it is diagnosed. Many people may not even realize that they potentially have the condition. Always be aware of the symptoms that indicate the disorder, and pay attention if someone tells you that you are exhibiting signs. The first step is to consult with your doctor if you feel that you may be at risk. Discuss with them the symptoms that you are having or that others are reporting. You will likely be referred to a sleep study, an overnight evaluation that monitors sleep patterns and behaviors. Home sleep tests are also available and may be provided by your doctor. If you are sent to a sleep center for an evaluation, you will be monitored throughout the night by technicians. Surface electrodes will send signals, which are then recorded digitally. Your breathing will also be measured, as will your blood oxygen level. The technicians may also monitor your sleep with the use of a nasal airflow sensor, a snore microphone, or by conducting tests such as an electroencephalogram. Once diagnosed, your doctor will recommend an appropriate course of treatment. It is important to share your concerns with your doctor and dentist as soon as possible.

How Can Sleep Apnea Affect My Teeth?

It is a fact that sleep apnea affects more than mental clarity and energy levels. Sleep apnea can also have a negative impact on oral and dental health. Since you may be somewhat surprised to hear your dentist ask about your sleep, you should know that tooth grinding is often a sign of the condition. Sleep apnea may also be to blame for cavities and worn tooth surfaces. Dentists may also suspect sleep apnea if they notice any of the following symptoms:

  • The patient reports painful chewing
  • Excessive clenching of the jaw
  • Excessive pain in the shoulder or neck
  • Headaches
  • Cracked, broken, missing, or worn teeth.

Another negative effect of sleep apnea on dental health is the fact that it can cause a severely dry mouth. The lack of saliva can lead to tooth decay, bacterial infection, and halitosis. Over time, it can also lead to tooth loss. Keep in mind that adequate levels of saliva in the mouth are vital for oral health. It neutralizes destructive acids and helps promote healthy tissue within the mouth. When a dry mouth occurs, it can wreak havoc on one’s oral health.

Dental Options for Treating Sleep Apnea

Appliance for control of movement jaws as prevention of sleep apnea

Appliance for control of movement jaws as prevention of sleep apnea

Those with sleep apnea will be pleased to learn that there are dental options available for the treatment of the condition. Tongue retaining mouthpieces and mandibular advancement devices are two treatments that dental professionals use. Both devices are convenient and easy to use. The first one works by using suction to keep a small compartment around the tongue to hold it forward out of the airway. The second type, mandibular advancement devices, work by pushing the jaw and tongue forward, which in turn keep the airways clear and promote normal breathing during sleep. These devices can be highly effective in those with mild to moderate sleep apnea. Dentists may also recommend over the counter options, such as a mouth guard which positions the jaw forward to help the breathing process. Speak to your dental professional, who will recommend the best dental option for you and your personal needs.

Learn More About Sleep Apnea’s Effect on Oral Health

At Shore Smiles Dental, we have extensive experience in treating patients who suffer from this common condition! We understand that each person has individual needs and concerns and that everyone has questions regarding sleep apnea and how it can affect their dental health. It is our goal to ensure that each and every patient has the most positive experience possible. If you’d like more information regarding sleep apnea and the effects on your oral health, or to schedule a consultation, contact us at 516-797-0300, or fill out our convenient online form.

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