Your Sleep Apnea Treatment Can Be the Key to Excellent Oral Health

Sleep apnea treatment will also help your oral health

The Connection Between Sleep Apnea Treatment and Your Oral Health

Did you know that the average person spends about one-third of their life sleeping? That sounds like a lot, but sleep is essential for our health—we need it just as much as we need food and water. This is why sleep apnea can have such a huge impact on so many different aspects of your health. It can even impact your oral health! 

If you have sleep apnea, the good news is that receiving sleep apnea treatment can have just as big of an impact on these aspects of your health, helping you feel better in ways you may not have expected. But you might not fully understand the condition’s specific links to your oral health. That’s why we’ve created a guide to help you realize how your dentist can play a role in your sleep apnea treatment. 

What is sleep apnea?

Even when we’re asleep, breathing is an automatic function—it has to be. Sleep disorders like sleep apnea, however, interrupt your ability to breathe during sleep. Sleep apnea causes you to repeatedly stop breathing in your sleep for short periods throughout the night.

People with sleep apnea stop breathing five or more times per hour, with each episode usually lasting 10 seconds or more. To kick-start your breathing again, your brain wakes you up slightly. This is enough to interrupt your sleep cycle, but it’s usually not enough for you to remember waking up.

It might sound minor, but untreated sleep apnea can cause a wide range of symptoms and increase your risk of developing other health issues, including heart problems, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and more. 

What are the types and causes of sleep apnea?

There are three types of sleep apnea, each of which is separated by its root cause. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea, which is caused by the muscles in your tongue or the back of your throat relaxing too much when you fall asleep. This causes them to collapse inward or fall backward, obstructing your airway until your brain wakes you up enough to contract the muscles and open your airway again.

Although obstructive sleep apnea can affect anyone, factors like obesity, a narrowed airway, nasal congestion, smoking, and age can increase your likelihood of developing it.

The second type of sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, is caused by your brain failing to send signals to the muscles that control breathing. Without these signals, the muscles don’t perform the movements necessary to allow you to breathe. Risk factors for this type of sleep apnea include being male, having a heart condition like congestive heart failure, using narcotics, being middle age or older, and having had a stroke.

The third and rarest type of sleep apnea is complex sleep apnea, which is when someone has a mix of obstructive and central sleep apneas. Because of this, complex sleep apnea shares causes and risk factors with both other types. 

What symptoms does it cause?

Sleep apnea is a very dangerous condition if it goes untreated, but many people don’t even know they have it. This is because the sleep disorder’s symptoms are often easy to brush aside or explain away as “normal.” If you’re experiencing symptoms of any medical condition, it’s always important to make sure there’s not more going on!

Recognizing sleep apnea symptoms can be a vital part of realizing that you need to look into a potential diagnosis. Sleep apnea has a wide range of symptoms. A lot of them can be tied to low oxygen levels at night and the frequent interruption of your sleep cycle, which prevent you from entering deeper, more restorative stages of sleep. Sleep apnea symptoms include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Episodes where you stop breathing in your sleep (often noticed by your partner)
  • Gasping or choking sounds during sleep
  • Shortness of breath upon waking
  • Clenching or grinding your teeth at night
  • Jaw pain
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Frequent headaches
  • Dry mouth in the mornings
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • Moodiness
  • Increased depression or anxiety

It’s important to remember that not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, but loud snoring—especially when accompanied by other symptoms—is often a strong indicator of the condition. On the other hand, not everyone who has sleep apnea snores, so make sure to look out for all of these symptoms! If you’re experiencing several of them, consider scheduling an appointment with a sleep doctor. It’s always better to rule out potential issues than to allow a health problem to go undiagnosed! 

How is sleep apnea connected to oral health?  

This discussion might make you wonder, “Does sleep apnea affect dental health?” The simple answer is yes! Sleep apnea and oral health are connected in unexpected ways. For example, sleep apnea and periodontal disease are connected in several different ways.

When you have sleep apnea, you’re more likely to breathe through your mouth at night, which dries out your mouth. Your saliva normally helps protect your teeth and gums from bacteria, so having less of it increases your risk of periodontitis and cavities. Your immune system also plays a role in preventing tooth decay and gum disease, but sleep apnea impairs the function of your immune system and can lead to chronic inflammation. This makes it harder to fight off oral bacteria, increasing your risk of suffering from oral health issues.

Additionally, there’s a link between sleep apnea and bruxism, which is when you clench or grind your teeth. Your teeth are incredibly strong but brittle. Bruxism increases your risk of chipped, cracked, or broken teeth. Even without these injuries, your teeth may wear down over time, causing enamel erosion and tooth sensitivity. Bruxism also puts extra strain on your temporomandibular joints, or the joints of your jaws, often causing jaw pain, headaches, or even igniting a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. The good news is that all of these links mean that you can significantly improve your oral health by treating your sleep apnea! 

Can a dentist help diagnose and treat sleep apnea?  

Yes! While your dentist can’t diagnose you with sleep apnea themselves, they may notice potential signs of it during your regular dental exam. The most noticeable sign is bruxism. A sudden increase in cavities or gum disease could also be a warning sign. Or your dentist may notice that you have a narrowed airway or large tongue that puts you at increased risk for sleep apnea. If your dentist notices any of these issues, they may refer you to a sleep specialist for confirmation.

Once you have a sleep apnea diagnosis, your dentist may be able to help treat the condition! CPAP machines are well known and incredibly effective, but they’re not the only option. If you have mild to moderate sleep apnea, you may be able to use an oral appliance instead. Oral appliances are designed to hold your jaw in an ideal position while you sleep and keep your airway as open as possible.

Oral appliances can also be a great solution if you don’t have sleep apnea but are wondering how to stop snoring so that you and your partner can sleep better. Oral appliances aren’t an option for severe sleep apnea, though, so you should always work with your sleep specialist and dentist to determine the best sleep apnea treatment for you. When oral appliances are an option, they can make your sleep apnea treatment more comfortable and convenient.

How do I know if I’m a candidate for an oral appliance?

While getting sleep apnea treatment from your dentist might sound strange at first, the connection between your jaw position and airway makes treatments like oral appliances a great option for many people. If you’d like to learn more about oral appliances or the connection between sleep apnea and your oral health, schedule an evaluation with your Tooth Doc dentist today!