When most people think of threats to their oral health, they think about tooth decay and gum disease. While these are certainly the most common threat to your oral health, there are other medical conditions that can also affect your oral health. One such condition is sleep apnea. Although sleep apnea is primarily associated with disrupting proper sleep patterns, it can also disrupt your oral health.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a medical disorder characterized by a lack of airflow while sleeping. It can have different causes depending on the type of sleep apnea. There are three different types of sleep apnea, such as:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): the most common type of sleep apnea, OSA occurs when the airway is physically narrowed or blocked by collapsing soft tissues in the back of the throat.
- Central sleep apnea: while not as common, central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send the necessary signals to the muscles for breathing.
- Complex sleep apnea: also known as mixed sleep apnea, this type occurs when there is a mix of OSA and central sleep apnea.
Since sleep apnea is primarily associated with a lack of proper breathing while sleeping, it tends to produce symptoms that are closely related to problems sleeping. For starters, many people with sleep apnea are tired during the day, can struggle to focus or concentrate, and may experience restlessness at night. In addition to the effects sleep apnea has on your overall health, however, there are also effects made to your oral health.
How does sleep apnea affect your oral health?
Now that we know a little more about what sleep apnea is and how it affects people, we can further explore just how sleep apnea impacts your oral health. Here are some of the most common oral health issues caused or worsened by sleep apnea:
Studies have indicated that people who have OSA are more likely to develop nighttime bruxism, or teeth grinding as well. Although the connection between these two conditions is still being researched, there are a few theories about this connection. One theory is that teeth grinding occurs when the airway is blocked as a way of reopening the airway. Another theory is that teeth grinding is used as a way of lubricating the back of the throat.
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) has also been associated with OSA. In some cases, TMD can occur as a result of constant teeth grinding or clenching. It is also believed that TMD occurs in those with OSA because the body naturally pushes the lower jaw forward in order to open the airway. Unfortunately, repetitively pushing the jaw forward places additional strain on the jaw joint that can result in TMD.
Since OSA causes the airway to be restricted, this can cause people with OSA to gasp for air in their sleep. Unfortunately, sleeping with your mouth open dries out the inside of your mouth and makes it harder for saliva to keep the mouth clean. As a result, people with OSA are often affected by dry mouth, which can increase the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. In some cases, excess tooth decay or severe gum disease can be indicators of sleep apnea. Additionally, snoring or breathing with one’s mouth open can also cause drying or irritation of the throat.
How can my dentist help?
During regular dental exams, your dentist may ask you about your sleeping habits, especially if they notice possible oral symptoms of OSA. If your dentist suspects OSA, they may advise you to talk with your primary care physician about having a sleep study. Your dentist may also recommend wearing a dental night guard to protect your teeth from grinding and reposition your jaw to prevent the airway from collapsing. Ultimately, treating your OSA is the key to improving both your sleep quality and oral health.
Dr. Sadati possesses extensive experience in all aspects of advanced restorative dentistry, with an emphasis in cosmetic and implant dentistry. He has attained Accredited Fellow status in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), the most rigorous, demanding credentialing process in the world. He is the only AACD Accredited Fellow in South Florida.