How Sleep Apnea Affects Your Oral Health

A woman with sleep disorder wakes up with severe headache. Holds head while on bed

Have you ever woken up with a sore jaw or a headache? You might be suffering from sleep apnea without even knowing it. Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that can cause disrupted sleep, snoring, and other serious health risks. It can also have a major impact on your oral health. In the US, 1 in 5 adults (or 25 million people) suffer from sleep apnea. Here’s how sleep apnea affects oral health and why it’s important to seek treatment.

How Sleep Apnea Affects Your Oral Health

Sleep apnea is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep due to the airway becoming blocked. When this happens, the muscles of the throat relax and collapse, which causes loud snoring and frequent arousal from sleep. This often results in poor sleep quality and fatigue during the day. Still, it can also lead to several adverse effects on oral health.

Sleep apnea causes the mouth to become dry. It increases the risk of developing gum disease, cavities, and other dental issues. It can also lead to changes in facial structure and TMJ (temporomandibular joint) pain or dysfunction. For example, people with untreated sleep apnea are at greater risk of developing gum disease and tooth decay. This is because they produce more histamine during sleep, increasing inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation then affects oral tissue, leading to increased tooth decay and gum disease.

Those with untreated sleep apnea may experience temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders due to clenching their teeth while sleeping. Sleep apnea is also a risk factor for teeth grinding. People with sleep apnea are more likely to suffer from teeth grinding or bruxism. This can cause dental damage such as chips, fractures, wear on the surface of your teeth, and even loss of teeth.

Symptoms of Severe OSA

Severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea can have serious consequences on oral health. Some of the symptoms associated with severe OSA include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Mouth breathing during sleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Morning headaches
  • Dry mouth upon waking
  • Gum disease and tooth decay
  • Pain and discomfort in the jaw
  • Teeth grinding or clenching (bruxism)

You must speak with your doctor or dentist about a possible sleep apnea diagnosis if you experience any or all of these symptoms. Treatment can help reduce the risk of serious health issues and improve the overall quality of life.

A woman using CPAP machine while sleeping

Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

Fortunately, there are treatment options available for those suffering from sleep apnea that can help reduce symptoms and improve overall oral health. For mild cases of sleep apnea, lifestyle modifications such as avoiding alcohol before bedtime or losing weight may help reduce symptoms.

For more severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea or OSA, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is usually recommended to keep the airway open during sleep. This works by providing a constant airflow through a mask worn while sleeping. It is placed over the nose and/or mouth, delivering air pressure to keep the throat open.

Other treatments, such as oral appliances or surgery, may be recommended for those who don’t respond well to CPAP therapy. Oral appliances are plastic devices that fit snugly in your mouth to prevent your airway from collapsing as you sleep. These devices are most effective when combined with CPAP therapy for people who suffer from OSA and TMJ disorders or bruxism (teeth clenching). Surgery may also be an option for more severe cases of OSA. Severe cases may require jaw repositioning or tissue removal from the mouth, throat, and tongue.

What Your Dentist Can Do for You

Your dentist can work with your doctor and/or sleep specialist to determine the best treatment option. They may also be able to provide other oral health treatments, such as night guards or bite plates, that can help reduce the risk of dental complications.

Tooth replacement options such as dental implants, bridges, and dentures may be recommended if the damage to your oral health has been severe. Replacements are necessary, especially if you have lost tooth structure due to bruxism or tooth decay that cannot be restored with a dental crown. Restoring missing teeth can help reduce the risk of bite dysfunction, misalignments, and other complications associated with tooth loss.

Your dentist will work closely with you to determine the best tooth replacement option for your needs and lifestyle. They can help create a care plan tailored to your individual needs, ensuring that the best possible outcome is achieved. You are responsible for following your dentist’s instructions and practicing good oral hygiene to ensure a successful treatment outcome.

Sleep apnea can have serious consequences on oral health, including tooth decay, gum disease, and pain in the jaw. Treatment options are available for those suffering from sleep apnea that can help reduce symptoms and improve overall oral health. With this, you don’t have to live with the pain and discomfort associated with sleep apnea. Seek professional help today to ensure optimal treatment for your condition.

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