The Connection Between Oral Hygiene and Sleep Apnea

A good night’s sleep is crucial for your health and wellbeing. There are many factors that can affect your quality of sleep, such as your stress level, what you ate or drank throughout the day, your nighttime routine, bedroom environment, or medications you take regularly. 

If you’re not getting enough quality sleep at night, one factor that may play a big part is your oral health and hygiene. One study analyzed college students and their sleeping and oral health habits. It found that those with poor dental health also had more disturbed sleep. Students who flossed everyday and maintained good oral hygiene had more energy and better sleep.

Not many people connect oral health with overall health, but it plays a significant role in your wellbeing, including the quantity and quality of your sleep. Dental care can be instrumental in helping identify and treat sleep issues, one of the most common conditions being sleep apnea. Learning more about sleep apnea will show you how a visit to your orthodontist could benefit much more than your teeth.

What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your breathing is interrupted or abruptly halted for brief periods of time repeatedly as you sleep. These breathing pauses generally last at least 10 seconds and occur intermittently throughout the night. There aren’t many warning signs for sleep apnea so it’s a condition that can be hard to diagnose, even if you make a doctor’s appointment to discuss your symptoms.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, about 25 million adults suffered from sleep apnea in the U.S. in 2014. This number is on the rise and the increase in cases may be attributed to an increase in obesity in the general population.

Not only does obstructive sleep apnea lead to poor sleep, grogginess, and fatigue, it may also point to more serious health problems. If obstructive sleep apnea is left untreated, you may increase your risk for:

  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Stroke.
  • Depression.
  • Heart disease.
  • High blood pressure.

Sleep apnea can affect your mood, productivity, brain health, and other important body functions when it’s left untreated.

Dental Issues That May Indicate Sleep Apnea

Your oral health may provide warning signs that you are suffering from sleep apnea. Dental issues that are probable symptoms of sleep apnea include the following:

  • Tooth grinding: Since sleep apnea indicates a discomfort within the mouth, jaw, or throat, tooth grinding may occur throughout the night. Dental professionals may look for flat or worn down teeth in an attempt to identify patients suffering from sleep apnea.
  • Increased cavities: Tooth grinding wears down protective enamel so sleep apnea sufferers are also more likely to experience an influx of bacteria that leads to cavities. If a dental care professional notices an increased number of cavities in a patient and worn down enamel, they may suspect sleep apnea.
  • Jaw pain and headaches: Patients who complain of jaw pain or headaches may suffer from sleep apnea. Dentists may examine jaw movement and pain and recommend a patient get tested for sleep apnea if jaw bones and muscles seem strained or misaligned.

Dental Issues That May Cause Sleep Apnea

There are certain dental issues that may cause the condition, including the following:

  • Short lower jaw: When your lower jaw is shorter than your upper jaw, it’s harder to breathe when you sleep and your muscles relax. This can cause you to experience sleep apnea throughout the night.
  • The shape of the roof of your mouth: Your palate’s shape may also cause sleep apnea. A different-shaped roof of your mouth could disrupt your breathing at night when you’re laying down.
  • Narrow upper airway: When you relax at night as you fall asleep, if your upper airway narrows, it may cause sleep apnea. This narrow upper airway stops the pattern of your breathing. A dentist who identifies a narrow upper airway may refer you to a sleep doctor because you could be suffering from sleep apnea.

A misaligned shape of your face, jaw, throat, and other areas may contribute to sleep apnea. 

Other Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

In addition to the dental issues that are signs of sleep apnea, there are other ways you may be able to conclude that you suffer from this condition. If you wake up tired and groggy but should have gotten plenty of sleep, it may indicate you’re suffering from a sleep condition, which could be sleep apnea. Other symptoms of sleep apnea include the following:

  • Snoring.
  • Noises while sleeping, such as choking or gasping.
  • Jaw pain.
  • Headaches, especially in the morning.
  • Fatigue and sleepiness throughout the day.
  • Waking up with dry mouth.
  • Experiencing a sore throat in the morning.

When you have facial structures or dental issues that cause sleep apnea, you’re likely to suffer from oxygen desaturation, upper airway collapse, and disruptive sleep.

Other Causes of Sleep Apnea

Facial structure and dental issues are factors that may cause sleep apnea. Additional causes of sleep apnea include the following:

  • Obesity: Being overweight contributes to the symptoms of sleep apnea. Extra weight puts pressure on your internal organs, making it harder for your airways to remain open as you sleep. By maintaining a healthy weight, you make it easier for your body to get the oxygen it needs when you sleep.
  • Alcohol and tobacco use: Your upper airway swells if you smoke cigarettes, putting a strain on your ability to maintain proper oxygen levels as you sleep. When you use alcohol, the muscles in the back of your throat decrease in muscle tone, which also leads to breathing problems as you sleep. Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol use makes it easier for your respiratory system to function properly as you sleep.
  • Sleeping position: If you have other factors that cause sleep apnea, you’re more likely to experience symptoms of the condition when you sleep on your back. Switching to a side position may alleviate some sleep disruptions but it’s still important to seek treatment for your condition.

Treatments for Sleep Apnea

If your dentist/orthodontist notices dental issues related to sleep apnea, they may recommend a sleep study or refer you to a sleep doctor. If your jaw’s shape and structure seem to be the culprit for your symptoms, jaw realignment surgery may help remedy the situation. By realigning the jaw and teeth, your body’s airways are opened more freely, making it easier for you to breathe when you sleep.

Another common treatment for sleep apnea is Mandibular Advancement Devices (MADs). These are mouthpieces similar to mouthguards that you wear when you sleep. A MAD gently eases the lower jaw forward and keeps it in this position throughout the night. This realignment of the jaw allows you to breathe easier, even with sleep apnea. A consultation with an orthodontist can help you determine what gear, if any, is appropriate for your situation.

Dental issues may be signs that you’re suffering from sleep apnea. Certain dental conditions may also be what cause your sleep apnea. Maintaining your dental health and being open to the proper treatments for sleep apnea will increase the quality of your sleep.