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A Good Night’s Sleep For Good Teeth And Gums

Sleep apnea is a medical condition that affects about 22 million Americans. Over-relaxation of the muscles in the airway and throat are the primary cause of this condition. The relaxed muscle tissue partially blocks the airway, causing oxygen intake during sleep. The body responds to the lack of air by waking and sometimes, gasping for air. Often, the sleeper doesn’t realize that he or she has awakened. The cycle of sleeping and waking can happen hundreds of times each night.

The result is poor quality sleep and daytime drowsiness, but these aren’t the only effects on the body. Sleep apnea sufferers can also experience higher incidences of coronary artery disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. Because their bodies struggle to breathe at night, sleep apnea sufferers can also experience symptoms that affect their oral health. These symptoms include dry mouth, bruxism, periodontal disease and even tooth loss.

Doctors categorize sleep apnea as mild, moderate or severe. Surprisingly, 80% of patients who have moderate to severe sleep apnea are never diagnosed! While snoring is a telltale sign of sleep apnea, it isn’t conclusive proof of the condition. Other conditions can cause a sleeper to snore. At the same time, many sleep apnea patients don’t snore at all!

Because many sleep apnea sufferers aren’t diagnosed, it’s important for dentists to evaluate each patient’s overall oral health. Since untreated sleep apnea can impact oral health, identifying the causes of dental symptoms is essential. For example, patients who often wake up with a dry, sore throat and headaches, or who experience chronic insomnia may actually be suffering from undiagnosed sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea affects both men and women, but women are eight times less likely to be diagnosed with the condition.

How does sleep apnea affect your oral health

Dry mouth. A dry mouth is a common consequence of sleep apnea. During sleep, the body’s production of saliva naturally drops. Saliva is an important natural defense against tooth decay. Regular saliva production washes away food particles and neutralizes acids that form in the mouth. It also keeps the specialized tissues in your mouth moist and healthy. One of your body’s natural reactions to a decrease in airflow is mouth-breathing. Your mouth is much larger than your nose, and admits a lot more air. Unfortunately, breathing through your mouth causes the tissues inside to dry out and shrink. This increases bacterial exposure above and below the gum line, since your saliva can’t wash away food and bacterial acids. Not only is this uncomfortable, but it also sets the stage for periodontal disease. Short term impacts also include dental infections and bad breath.

Bruxism (teeth grinding). Some people grind their teeth when they sleep. When you grind your teeth, you can cause them to wear prematurely, and you can damage the enamel. Since your body can’t heal damaged teeth, it’s best to avoid damaging them! Some researchers think that teeth grinding, like mouth-breathing, is a reflexive response to reduced air flow. When you grind your teeth, you bring your lower jaw forward. This action automatically changes the size and shape of the airway and admits more air. Long-term grinding can damage the chewing surfaces of molars and can also damage your incisors. Over time, your teeth may become thin and brittle. They can also become sensitive from enamel wear. Conventional treatment for teeth grinding involves preventing the upper and lower jaw from contacting each other during sleep. A specially formed mouth guard or bite splint can do the trick, but it doesn’t treat the underlying cause – sleep apnea.

What are the other impacts of sleep apnea?

Periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is a long-term consequence of poor oral health. Sleep apnea can play a major role in establishing periodontal disease. Over time, the reduced saliva production, chronically dry mouth tissues, teeth grinding and bacterial exposure take their toll on your teeth, gums and tooth roots. Your teeth can loosen, especially if bacteria sets up shop below the gum line. In this scenario, you can also experience bone loss, which destabilizes your teeth. As your teeth deteriorate and loosen, tooth loss becomes a very real possibility. Tooth loss can lead to other serious, chronic health problems in both younger and older adults.

Regular visits to the dentist can help identify oral health concerns that may be related to sleep apnea. Early intervention, as well as diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea, can reduce the possibility of serious health consequences. It can also help protect your teeth and gums, and improve your oral health.

If you’d like more information about treating the dental symptoms of sleep apnea, please call us at (509) 946-9313 to set up an appointment.