It’s no secret that a good night’s rest is beneficial to our health. Not only does it prevent feeling tired during the day, but it also improves cognitive function, strengthens our immune system, maintains hormonal balances, and aids in proper digestion. Without the proper amount of sleep, your brain can’t function properly, leading to other potential health risks.
People with sleep apnea have a hard time breathing at night, leading to restlessness and sleep deprivation. Sleep apnea can also cause other problems, especially for your dental health and hygiene.
At Rhoades Family Dentistry, we see many patients who struggle with sleep apnea and the effects this sleep disorder has on their teeth. If you experience restless nights of sleep, snore a lot, or you’ve noticed more jaw pain recently, it’s probably time to see your dentist.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is very common and affects millions of Americans. This condition is typically characterized by breathing interruptions that occur during your sleep cycles at night. There are three different types of sleep apnea, including:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): This is the most common type of sleep apnea in adults. OSA occurs when the upper airway narrows or collapses, causing a blockage in your throat. As the sleeper, you experience lapses in breathing, with usually five or more events occurring per night. Since OSA can vary in how it presents from person to person, pauses in breathing can occur for a few seconds or up to minutes at a time.
- Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): CSA occurs when there’s a problem with the brain function that controls your respiratory muscles. If these muscles don’t function properly, you may experience shallower or slower breathing while you sleep.
- Complex Sleep Apnea: Also called mixed sleep apnea, this type of apnea occurs when a person experiences both OSA and CSA simultaneously.
Symptoms of sleep apnea disorders can range from mild to severe, depending on the person. These symptoms are typically a result of decreased oxygen levels and poor sleep during the night. Some common symptoms that people with sleep apnea experience include:
- Disrupted breathing where respiration is labored or may even stop for up to a minute at a time
- Excessive daytime sleepiness, drowsiness, and fatigue
- Difficulty thinking clearly, limited attention span, and decreased mental performance
- Irritability and forgetfulness
- Excessive snoring that may include gasping, choking, or snorting, all of which cause a person to wake up briefly
- Frequent need to wake up and urinate throughout the night
- Sore throat or dry mouth upon waking
Women especially may experience increased depression, anxiety, insomnia, and frequent waking during the night. Children with sleep apnea tend to experience asthma exacerbation, bed-wetting, hyperactivity, and issues with academic performance.
How Does Sleep Apnea Affect Oral Health?
With so many symptoms related to sleep apnea, it’s important to treat the sleep disorder before it negatively impacts your long-term health. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart strain, and drops in oxygen levels.
Sleep apnea can also drastically reduce the state of your oral health and cause problems for your mouth, teeth, and gums. Because sleep apnea affects your airways and your ability to get decent sleep, your body relies on mouth breathing, and you are more prone to having bad breath, mouth ulcers, and the development of gum disease.
Here are some other ways sleep apnea impacts your dental health that you may be unaware of.
Tooth Decay and Grinding
Clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth is also known as bruxism. Bruxism can happen anytime, but typically people experience involuntary and uncontrolled jaw movements while they are sleeping. If you wake up feeling unrefreshed or experience neck pain, jaw pain, or headaches in the morning, you may be grinding or clenching your teeth at night.
You may have no idea that you experience bruxism, but your dentist can usually point out any evidence or symptoms during your dental cleanings. Signs of bruxism usually include cracked or broken teeth, loose teeth, eroded tooth surfaces, muscular pain in your jaw, neck, head, or face, and dryness of your mouth, lips, and throat upon waking.
You may also experience tooth decay from higher acidity levels in your mouth when it’s extremely dry. These acid levels will eat away at your tooth enamel, causing bacteria to grow and erode away at the surfaces of your teeth.
Because sleep apnea blocks your upper airways at night, you’re more likely to breathe through your mouth. Mouth breathing causes your saliva to evaporate. Saliva plays an important role in providing a base pH level in your mouth and protecting the enamel on your teeth. Without the proper saliva supply, your mouth will experience higher levels of acidity than what is healthy for your teeth.
Mouth breathing also has many other consequences to your oral health, including dry mouth, tooth decay, mouth sores, plaque build-up, gum inflammation (gingivitis), and periodontal disease.
TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint) Disorder
Excessive grinding and clenching as you work to keep your airway open may eventually lead to TMJ disorder. Your TMJ is what connects your lower jaw to your upper jaw. You have two TMJ joints, one on each side of your face. Sleep apnea can lead to TMJ disorder, a condition that affects your jaw muscles.
TMJ disorder symptoms include pain in the jaw, head, neck, and shoulders, problems chewing, and clicking or grinding sounds in the jaw. You may also experience a locked jaw, which is the inability to open or close your mouth for a certain amount of time.
How Your Dentist Can Help
Although your dentist can’t officially diagnose sleep apnea, they can prevent the condition from worsening by detecting any early warning signs. Your dentist may also work with other healthcare professionals, such as sleep doctors, to create a treatment plan that will improve both your sleep and oral health.
If you notice any problems with your teeth, it’s important to see your dentist as soon as possible. Regular teeth cleanings and check-ups can help prevent any condition from getting worse if it’s detected early.
Rhoades Family Dentistry offers all general dentistry services, including anti-snoring therapy and devices that can help you breathe easier at night. Schedule an appointment by contacting us today at 913-782-8900.