Millions of people in the United States today suffer from sleep apnea, and many of them don’t even know it. In fact, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, upwards of 12 million people in the U.S. have from sleep apnea. That means that about 1 in 20 people throughout the country suffer from sleep apnea, with many of them not even being aware of their medical condition. The problem, of course, with not knowing is the serious complications that can occur due to this disorder with no preventive measures being taken. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that can cause its sufferers to stop breathing while they’re sleeping, with incidents of breathing cessation occurring up to 100 times per night. One of the little known consequences of sleep apnea is its effects on oral health, which can be serious.
What is sleep apnea?
The Greek word ‘apnea’ actually means ‘without breath,’ which is where the term sleep apnea originates. There are three major forms of sleep apnea. The most common is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when the throat muscles relax. The second most common type is central sleep apnea, which occurs when the brain is not sending the correct signals to the muscles that control breathing. The third type of sleep apnea is complex sleep apnea, which is a combination of the first two. Signs that you may be suffering from sleep apnea are loud snoring and feeling tired or lethargic, even after awakening from a full night’s sleep. More than half of those who suffer from sleep apnea are over the age of 40 and obese.
How can sleep apnea affect my teeth?
Sleep apnea may cause bruxism, the medical term for teeth grinding, especially during sleep. While some teeth grinding that occurs infrequently may be normal, especially for those who are experiencing life stressors, bruxism can be caused by dental issues such as abnormal or misaligned bite, loose teeth, crooked teeth, or missing teeth. However, when bruxism is caused by sleep apnea, it can have serious effects. It’s important that anyone who suffers from any of the signs or symptoms of bruxism or sleep apnea see a healthcare professional immediately in order to be evaluated and, if necessary, treated. If sleep apnea is left untreated, it can lead to complications involving the teeth, blood, and other organs of the body.
What can I do?
Naturally, the first thing you need to do if you suspect you have sleep apnea is to be evaluated by a healthcare professional. Additionally, it’s vital that you inform your family dentist of your condition. There are remedies to the potential health consequences of sleep apnea. These include continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. This is a machine that delivers air pressure via a mask that’s placed over the nose while sleeping. CPAP is effective treatment that opens airways while sleeping, preventing both apnea and snoring. However, many patients complain about their CPAP machines due to discomfort, which can lead to their cessation of its use. In this case, your family dentist may have treatments that are not only effective, but more comfortable to use. Dentists can customize oral appliances for your mouth that will ease the jaw forward, advance the tongue, and open the airway. This cuts down on snoring as well as tissue collapse that can lead to obstructive sleep apnea. Patients who won’t wear CPAP machines because they find them uncomfortable to wear throughout the night are often helped by cosmetic dentists with dental treatments that help to open the airway and prevent breathing cessation through the night.
It’s estimated that one in 25 women over 40 suffer from sleep apnea, and one in 25 men over 40 have it. Sleep apnea not only can have devastating effects on health. It can also negatively affect your teeth and overall oral health. If you’re a sleep apnea patient, it’s important that you inform your family dentist of your condition, as there may be consequences to your dental health. Additionally, your dentist has treatments that can help open up your airway and to decrease the potential dental effects of sleep apnea. If you don’t have a family dentist, contact a dental office in your area today to schedule an appointment.