Sleep apnea is one of the more common sleep disorders, affecting tens of millions of Americans. Characterized by repeated interruptions in breathing, or ‘apneas’, this disorder typically presents with snoring, unpleasant noises during sleep, and/or insomnia. The apneas occur when tissue in the airway collapses, preventing air from circulating to the lungs. This can be caused by weak muscles in the airway, being overweight, and dental issues, among other risk factors. In addition to causing daytime fatigue and reduced energy, this sleep disorder can affect one’s mental faculties and overall long-term health. In some severe cases it can even be fatal, due to critical reductions in oxygen, increased blood pressure, and strain on the heart. Although a lesser-known side effect, oral and dental problems can also result from sleep apnea.
Among other risk factors, those with a large tongue, enlarged tonsils, small jawbones, and nasal/sinus are more prone to developing this condition. Once it develops, a person is far more likely to suffer from oral hygiene and health complications, such as bad breath, mouth ulcers, TMJ disorders, periodontal disease, mouth breathing, and bruxism.
The temporamandibular joint (TMJ) connects the upper and lower jaws. TMJ disorders are strongly linked to this disorder. Symptoms include pain in the jaw, head, neck, and shoulders, as well as problems with chewing. Often, the jaw joints make grinding or clicking sounds, or even lock for extended periods.
Bruxism is another potential effect that sleep issues can have on oral health. The term refers to habitually grinding the teeth and clenching the jaw, which is caused by involuntary and uncontrollable jaw movements. This typically occurs while a person is asleep or trying to sleep, having negative impacts such as leaving a person feeling un-refreshed or headache-ridden in the morning, in addition to having a sore jaw.
Breathing through the mouth is the main symptom and consequence of this particular sleep condition. When this occurs, it causes the mouth to dry out, leading to tooth decay. Excessive mouth breathing can have further consequences, as well. The subsequent dry mouth leads to mouth sores, plaque, gum inflammation and gingivitis, and periodontal disease.
Though less common, children can also be afflicted. Sleep issues can negatively impact the oral health of children, particularly by damaging their developing teeth and gums. Sleep issues in childhood can lead to weaker teeth, increased cavities, inflamed gums, and periodontal disease. Children with apnea during sleep also had more bleeding of the gums, mouth sores, and pain and sensitivity in the teeth.
Some people are unaware that they are afflicted by sleep apnea, and are only told after a dental exam. During a check-up, a hygienist or dentist may notice an array of signs that indicate declining oral health, from eroded tooth surfaces to cracks, chips, and even full breaks. Less obvious symptoms may also include dryness in the throat, mouth, and lips. Patients should be forthcoming about any muscular pain they may be experiencing in their jaw, neck, face, and head.
If you are experiencing sleep issues and think that apnea might be the culprit, be sure to discuss your symptoms with your dentist here at Midway Family Dentistry, and with your physician. There are several treatment options possible that will enable you to regain control of your overall health and well being, sleeping through the night and waking up rested and well.