The Surprising Link Between Sleep Apnea and Your Dentist

Are you sick and tired of feeling sick and tired? Do you wake up every morning with a severe headache? Or feel exhausted, irritated, or just not like your normal self during the day?

You might be suffering from sleep apnea.

Approximately 25 million adults in the US suffer from sleep apnea, but nearly 19 million of them are undiagnosed. Just as shocking — most people don’t know their dentist can help recognize, prevent, and treat sleep apnea.

What is sleep apnea?

First things first, sleep apnea may be common, but don’t think it’s not a serious problem. Sleep apnea can have overarching effects on your health and wellbeing. In extreme cases, it can even be fatal.

This disorder occurs when you stop breathing for dozens (or even hundreds) of times every night. During a sleep apnea episode, C02 builds up in your body and your blood pressure rises, startling you awake to restart proper breathing. 

These periods of being startled awake are often just a few seconds long. They’re so short that most people have no idea that they’re suffering from sleep apnea.

What causes sleep apnea?

There are a few different causes of sleep apnea. For example, you may have an imbalance that’s causing a misfiring of signals to your brain, causing your body to “forget” to breathe, called Central Sleep Apnea.

However, the most common cause of sleep apnea is an airway blockage. In this case, factors like your weight, the shape of your head and neck, the positioning and shape of your jaw, and the size of your tongue and tonsils cause the walls of your throat to collapse. This type of sleep apnea is called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).

How obstructive sleep apnea affects your life

OSA can put a huge strain on your day-to-day wellbeing and health. Your body can never get the rest it needs, leading to negative effects on your life. This produces even worse sleep quality, and more episodes of sleep apnea!

It’s a vicious cycle. The only way to break it is to recognize the symptoms and get help.

First of all, there’s the snoring. OSA almost always leads to loud and frequent snoring, which can cause some problems between you and the people you live with. 

Not only does sleep apnea disrupt the sleep of others, it prevents you from getting the deep and restful sleep you need. This produces symptoms like…

  • Severe headaches when you wake up and throughout the day
  • Drowsiness and feeling exhausted throughout the day
  • Hormonal imbalances, leading to weight gain 
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Mental health issues
  • Poor performance at work or lack of interest in hobbies
  • Car accidents or other accidents caused by poor reaction time as a result of lack of sleep

But it doesn’t have to get to this point! 

OSA is totally preventable. By paying special attention to risk factors and warning signs, you can take steps to keep the disorder from progressing and the cycle from starting.  

Where are these warning signs? You guessed it — in your mouth.

Not all snoring is a sign of sleep apnea!

While OSA almost always leads to loud and frequent snoring, snoring does not always indicate OSA. If you’ve been told you snore, talk to your dentist. They can help you understand if you’re suffering from sleep apnea or not.

Your dentist can help prevent, diagnose, and treat sleep apnea

Dentists are a great partner in early diagnosis of sleep disorders, including OSA. Because OSA is an airway health problem, it makes sense that the doctor who works on your teeth, gums, and mouth has one of the best chances of detecting an issue before or as it is starting.

Here are 3 things your dentist might notice.

1. Tooth grinding (bruxism)

One of the very first warning signs you might be at risk of sleep apnea is tooth grinding. Also called bruxism, this occurs when you clench, grind, and gnash your top and bottom teeth together. 

Teeth grinding usually happens at night and most people have no idea they’re doing it. Thankfully, your dentist can identify this since bruxism leads to issues like worn tooth surfaces, broken and cracked teeth, and inflamed or receding gums.

It’s not totally clear why bruxism and sleep apnea are linked. Being startled awake from an apnea episode causes your heart and respiratory rates to increase and stress hormones to flood your bloodstream. This stress response is thought to increase muscle activity in the jaw and lead to clenching or grinding.

Additionally, studies show that when your throat begins to relax before a sleep apnea episode, your jaw may reflexively clamp down in an effort to prevent your airway from being blocked.

2. Increase in cavities

If you go to your regular 6-month check up and your dentist finds a large number of cavities, it’s cause for concern in more ways than one!

Like we mentioned, tooth grinding and jaw clenching puts a lot of force on your teeth and causes damage. This makes your teeth much more susceptible to cavity-causing bacteria.

So a sudden spike in cavities is a sign to your dentist that sleep apnea may be at play.

3. Jaw, tongue, and throat issues

There are quite a few other physical indicators in your mouth that your dentist will notice.

  • Small jaw bones
  • Large tongue with scalloped edges
  • Large tonsils
  • Large neck 
  • Deviated septum
  • Redness in the throat (often caused by snoring)

All these things can put you at risk of sleep apnea and are things your dentist can talk with you about.

Talk to your dentist about OSA today

If you feel you might have sleep apnea or might be at risk, it’s important to talk to your dentist. They are a valuable partner in identifying and treating this dangerous issue. Your dentist may recommend you to take a simple sleep test or talk to your doctor to be sure you have the best chance for understanding your risk and managing your options.

If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, there are several steps and treatment options to review. In some cases, sleep apnea can be reversed through lifestyle changes like:

  • Losing weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating healthier

However, other patients may benefit from therapies and treatments like:

  • CPAP Machine – A medical device that uses air pressure to keep your airway open at night.
  • DNA Appliance  – A non-invasive alternative to sleep apnea surgery, this device uses gentle vibrational forces that reposition your teeth and increase the size of your airway.
  • Oral Appliance – Worn like a retainer, this appliance keeps your air passage open and unobstructed throughout the night.
  • Surgery – Designed to realign the jaw and increase the size and stability of your airway

Ericson Dental offers sleep apnea treatments

Ericson Dental is here to help you reduce your risk of sleep apnea, and improve your quality of life. Our dentists are trained to look for and spot early signs of sleep apnea. Our goal is to help you avoid a serious sleep disorder issue.

We utilize state-of-the-art dental technology and treatments to help you overcome your sleep apnea. Additionally, your medical insurance may help cover your sleep apnea treatment. We can work with your healthcare provider to help maximize that coverage.

If you think you might be suffering from sleep apnea or have questions, schedule a consultation today and let’s talk.

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