How Is Sleep Apnea Connected to Oral Health?

If you have trouble sleeping at night, you may consider talking to your dentist. Loud snoring and restless sleep could be a sign of sleep apnea, a potentially dangerous sleeping disorder. A dentist can identify key signs of sleep apnea during your routine checkups. While your dentist can’t give you an official diagnosis of sleep apnea, they may be able to see the signs to recommend you for a sleep study. 

man sleeping in bed with sleep apnea Bethesda Maryland

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where a patient stops breathing throughout the night. These pauses can last for several seconds and can be excessive in number. The delayed breathing can be due to an obstruction or improper signals from the brain to the muscles that control breathing. 

Obstructive sleep apnea is a form of sleep apnea where the muscles in the back of the throat relax and block the airway. When the muscles no longer support the soft tissues, it narrows or cuts off the airflow. As a result, your brain will briefly wake you in order to restore your oxygen levels. However, you often won’t remember waking up because it is so short, and you may be too tired to realize what happened. 

Central sleep apnea happens when the brain doesn’t send the correct signals to your body. Breathing is a function that doesn’t require thought to occur because your brain automatically transmits signals to your muscles to contract. While you sleep, your brain won’t send these signals, and you may go a period without attempting to breathe. Naturally, this will cause you to wake in order to restore breathing functions. 

How Does Sleep Apnea Affect Your Mouth?

One symptom of sleep apnea is loud snoring. While this symptom may seem more of a nuisance, it can actually be cause for concern. This is because snoring keeps your mouth open for long periods, which can dry out your mouth. A dry mouth is an environment in which bacteria can thrive. 

Bacteria naturally live in your mouth, but saliva helps to neutralize harmful by-products of bacteria. If your mouth is dry, bacteria can continue to grow and create more plaque. An increase in plaque and bacteria raises your risk of developing tooth decay or gum disease. 

Another common sign of sleep apnea is grinding your teeth. Teeth grinding, or bruxism, wears down the structure of your teeth and the protective enamel. Without the enamel, you can experience a rise in cavities or tooth breakage. Grinding your teeth can also create red or inflamed gums–a sign of gum disease

Fatigue is prevalent amongst patients suffering from sleep apnea. This is because the body must constantly wake itself to correct blood oxygen levels. This frequent waking means that it is difficult to get a completely restful sleep. In addition, patients with sleep apnea are more likely to develop high blood pressure or heart disease due to the stress their body undergoes. Without treatment, sleep apnea can be fatal.