Sleeping Disorders & Dentistry
The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 18 million Americans have sleep apnea. The condition causes repeated breathing interruptions throughout the night; the pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes and may occur 30 or more times per hour. These pauses happen because the muscles in the back of the throat are flaccid, the tongue is too large, or the jaw is too small, causing airway obstructions.
The first sign of sleep apnea is often tooth grinding (also called bruxism). We look for worn tooth surfaces, a sign that a patient grinds his or her teeth. Grinding can cause tooth wear and breakage as well as inflamed and receding gums. A spike in cavities can also be a sign of grinding because the force damages teeth, making them susceptible to cavity-causing bacteria.
Gasping for breath causes people to wake up repeatedly, which diminishes sleep quality and causes fatigue. Sleep apnea is linked to a higher risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Sleep apnea can be treated. There are several options:
Adjusting sleeping habits. This may mean simply not sleeping on your back
Continuous positive air pressure (CPAP). This is a device which improves breathing while you sleep. The device supplies air through the nasal passages and the air pressure keeps the airway open while sleeping.
Oral appliances. Certain oral devices can shift and support the jaw to prevent the airway from collapsing. Research shows that oral appliances can successfully prevent sleep apnea in some mild to moderate cases.
Surgery. According to the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine upper airway surgery may be recommended when other treatment options are unsuccessful in eliminating the symptoms of sleep apnea. Depending on the location and nature of the airway obstruction, the procedure may be minimally invasive or more complex. It may be necessary to remove the tonsils or other parts of the soft palate or throat.
If you think you have sleep apnea, make sure to speak with your physician or dentist for more information and possible evaluation.