Do you awaken in the morning more tired than when you went to bed? Have you recently developed a painful jaw, sore throat, and recurrent headaches? Do you have trouble focusing when at work?
Maybe, you should schedule an appointment with the dentist.
Your first reaction to this suggestion will likely be utter surprise! Followed by amusement.
But, research is now linking a condition called sleep apnea with dental problems. Scientists concede that sleep apnea and problems with your teeth can be interlinked. And, your dentist might just have solutions for your snoring and poor quality of sleep. On the flip side, your dental problems may be a result of disturbed sleep patterns. The oral specialist will examine you and discuss your symptoms before suggesting a course of action.
Understanding Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a condition where you awaken several times during the night when air passages in your throat close off because of sagging muscles. When you’re unable to breathe, the brain wakes you up so you change position and open the airways. Most people don’t realize that they’ve woken up, but the constant disturbance can interfere with your sleep quality. Sometimes, you may wake up to 30 times or more within one hour. Further, you may develop several health problems because of fatigue and resultant stress. Doctors have identified higher risks of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, liver problems, and obesity. And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Sleep Apnea Causes Dental Problems
If you’ve developed oral issues in the past few months, your dentist may check if you have sleep apnea. Here are some of the indications to look for:
- Symptoms like sensitive teeth, strained jaw muscles, and cracked and broken teeth point to a condition called bruxism. At least 25% of people with sleep apnea have bruxism or grind their teeth while sleeping. Clenching or grinding your teeth is an involuntary reaction to blocked air passages. As a result, your teeth wear down.
- Difficulty in opening your mouth or move your jawbones when speaking or chewing is because of TMJ or temporomandibular joint pain or misalignment. Clenching your teeth while sleeping stresses the joints connecting your jawbones to the facial bones.
- Gum disease or cavities often occur when your teeth and gums don’t receive the protective flushing of saliva. An inability to breathe because of sleep apnea results in sleeping with your mouth open so that the entire oral cavity dries out.
Your dentist may also look for other signs that you have sleep apnea such as:
- A red, irritated throat because of snoring
- Scalloped edges on the tongue
- Sleepiness all through the day
- Dry mouth
- Waking up with a headache
- Difficulty in concentration
Surprisingly, Dental Issues Can Cause Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Many people who develop sleep apnea have a smaller lower jaw as compared to the upper jaw. As a result, they have a condition called an “overbite.” Doctors define the condition as retrognathia which is clearly visible from the patient’s side profile. This condition is not unattractive and most often, does not cause dental problems. But, when the patient is sleeping, the small jaw may allow the tongue to slip back into the throat and block the breathing passages.
Your dentist may also identify misalignment of your teeth as a cause of sleep apnea. If the teeth on the upper and lower jaw don’t align properly, the tongue does not stay in place when you sleep at night. And, if it slides back in the throat, you may have disturbed sleep and snoring.
Best Possible Dental Solutions for Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea has many causes including obesity, gender (men are more prone to the problem), and age. Further, if you have large tonsils or tongue, or any other sinus issues, you could have sleep disorders like apnea. When the condition is linked to your teeth, your dentist may be able to help you. She will create a customized treatment program to realign your teeth, so you can sleep normally. Here’s how:
Wearing a Night Guard
Wearing a night guard for teeth grinding when sleeping can help with the problem of bruxism. The dentist will create a customized appliance to protect your teeth from damage. In extreme cases, patients may wear out the guard and continue to have symptoms linked to sleep apnea. In that case, your doctor may have to look for other options to help you.
Using a CPAP Machine
The Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine is a device that prevents the airways from closing when you sleep. The gadget includes a mask that fits securely on your nose. This mask is connected by a tube to the machine that delivers pressurized air into your lungs through the nose. In addition to preventing sleep apnea and snoring, the CPAP can also help lessen the buildup of mucus in the sinus passages.
Maxillomandibular Advancement (MMA) Surgery
In case your sleep apnea is a result of an overbite, the oral surgeon may recommend a procedure where both the jaws can be moved forward. This surgery is called maxillomandibular advancement (MMA). Alternatively, the dentist may suggest osteotomy where the entire lower jaw is detached and refitted into the proper setting. In this way, it is possible to correct the uneven placement of the joint connecting the lower and upper jaws. Typically, oral surgeons perform this surgery as a last resort when other solutions have not resolved the problem.
Sleep apnea and snoring may not seem like a big problem, but it can lead to other health issues if not taken care of. Often times, making lifestyle changes like losing weight and better dental hygiene can resolve the issue. Talk to the expert dentist, Dr. Jennifer Silver at Southcentre Dental and ask for the best treatment options that will work for you.
- The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Your Dentist
- Have Sleep Apnea? Why You Shouldn’t Put Off the Dentist
- Impact of Recessed Jaw and Overbite (Retrognathia)
Dr. Jennifer Silver is a highly accomplished dental surgeon with a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the University of Melbourne, Australia. Her educational accomplishments include deans honours list, an oral surgery award and best research project. Prior to this degree, she graduated with honors from Dalhousie University’s Dental Hygiene Program and worked in this field for 10 years.
The areas of dentistry that holds special interest for Dr. Silver include oral medicine and whole-body dentistry. She currently devotes time and resources toward helping patients with TMJ pain and sleep apnea, while continuing to provide general dentistry as well. Future interests include devoting time to additional oral surgery training. Jen strives to treat her patients as if they were family. She strongly believes in a multi-disciplinary approach for patient care. She is part of a large network of specialists that she trusts and collaborates with when helping patients.