Sleep Apnea: Why You Might Want to Talk to Your Dentist about It

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Snoring can be embarrassing, but it is more than just a disturbance to whoever is sleeping next to you or in the next room. It can be a symptom of a potentially serious disorder called sleep apnea.

Your Snoring is a Problem

The National Sleep Foundation says that, across the United States, about 18 million Americans have sleep apnea. It is not easy to find the exact number of people who have it because not everyone goes to the hospital to get diagnosed with it. However, sleep apnea is dangerous. Those who have it and are not receiving treatment may stop breathing while asleep, sometimes hundreds of times in one night.

Untreated sleep apnea can lead to a slew of health problems, including diabetes, hypertension, arrhythmia, congestive heart failure, stroke, and heart attacks. To a lesser degree, it will disrupt your peaceful night and your life during the day.

Because of the sleep disorder, you will wake up several times throughout the night, making restorative sleep impossible to achieve. During the day, you will experience symptoms such as headache, excessive sleepiness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, dry mouth or sore throat, forgetfulness, and poor performance at work.

There are several factors that can increase your risk of developing sleep apnea. Obesity, age, smoking, drinking, being born male, neck circumference, and narrowed airway can lead to this condition.

However, it can also be linked with your oral health.

Sleep and Your Mouth

It might seem unconnected, but there is a strong link between the two. The sleep disorder may arise because the tongue is too large, blocking the airway during sleep. When the muscles in the back of the throat are flaccid, it can also lead to sleep apnea. Moreover, a small jaw may restrict airflow, causing breathing disruptions.

According to experts, the first sign of sleep apnea is bruxism. Unconsciously, people who have the sleep disorder are grinding or gritting their teeth. If they are alone, they might not be aware that they are doing it. However, there are symptoms that will inform you that you have bruxism and, potentially, sleep apnea.

One symptom is periodontal disease, also known as gum disease. It is a serious infection of the tissues that hold the teeth in place. In its advanced stages, it may lead to bleeding gums and pain. It may also require dental surgery, especially if the tooth is rotting and has affected the surrounding bones.

Bruxism causes periodontal disease by damaging the supporting tissues around the teeth. The grinding and gritting make the gums more vulnerable to infections.

Bruxism can also cause jaw pain, cavities, and worn-down teeth.

woman getting her teeth checked

Treatment for Sleep Apnea Linked to Oral Health

If your dentist or doctor suspects sleep apnea, they will recommend that you go through a polysomnogram or sleep study.

During a sleep study, the patient will be attached to different monitoring equipment and be overserved while they are asleep. They will record physical movements and behaviors, as well as brain and muscle activity, to be analyzed by a professional. These tests will determine if you have sleep apnea.

There are also tests that can be used at home. It monitors breathing, not the quality of sleep. Without a prescription, a smartwatch or a smartphone can record sleep data for your doctor to analyze.

When a diagnosis has been made, the doctor will recommend treatments. Most will be asked to exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, and lose excess weight if the cause of the sleep apnea is obesity. A drastic but healthy lifestyle change can improve this condition.

Patients who have mild to moderate sleep apnea may be fitted with a dental appliance designed to prevent the tongue from blocking the airways. The device will also push the lower jaw forward to keep the airway free all night.

If none of the available treatments work, people with severe cases of sleep apnea may be advised to undergo surgery. Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is a common surgery performed on adults who have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. It involves removing tissue in the throat to widen the airways. The surgeon might resect at least one of these: the uvula, tonsils, or the soft palate, depending on which is more appropriate.

Snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea. The sleep disorder can be caused by a variety of factors, but the mouth could be involved. A large tongue, relaxed throat muscles, or anything that could obstruct the airways can lead to sleep apnea. To prevent this condition from getting worse, it is best to talk to a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

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