If you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, you may think of it as just a breathing or sleeping problem. But, for some people, it can be much more. There may be other underlying problems that can lead to the dangerous disorder, such as dental problems. Let’s take a look at just what OSA is and how dental problems contribute to sleep apnea.
Many people think sleep apnea is just a case of extreme snoring. In reality, it’s much more than that and can lead to serious health problems. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 18 million people have sleep apnea in the United States. Obstructive sleep apnea is a chronic condition that happens when the muscles in the throat relax when you’re sleeping. This blocks the air flow leading people to stop breathing for periods of ten seconds or longer as oxygen levels drop. This interferes with a person’s quality of sleep, but more importantly it can be quite dangerous because it can also affect breathing.
So, how can dental problems cause sleep apnea? While OSA affects breathing, there are also dental problems that are related to the disorder. Teeth grinding is one of the most common. When you visit your dentist, he or she will look at whether your tooth surfaces are worn. This is one sign of teeth grinding as well as other wear and tear on the teeth and receding or inflamed gums. If a patient has a spike in cavities, a dentist may also suspect teeth grinding because when teeth are worn down, they become weak, making them more susceptible to bacteria that leads to cavities.
When people have sleep apnea they are also more likely to breathe through their mouths. This can dry out their mouths and protective saliva, which can also lead to tooth decay. It can also lead to chronic bad breath and in extreme cases, tooth loss. Sleep apnea can dry out the sockets in your teeth. When this happens and a patient grinds their teeth, it can lead to tooth loss.
Another dental problem that is linked to sleep apnea is jaw pain like TMJ. More and more studies are showing a link between TMJ and problems like a misaligned jaw joint. People who grind their teeth often when they’re sleeping are sometimes diagnosed with TMJ as well. A dentist can assess your situation and see if this is the case for you.
If your dentist notices the dental signs of sleep apnea listed above and you’re experience other OSA symptoms, he or she will likely recommend a sleep study. This is truly the only way to definitely know if someone has chronic sleep apnea.
During the sleep study, the patient spends the night at a sleep laboratory where they are monitored. Blood oxygen levels, respiration rate, brain-wave activity, leg movements, and how many partial inhalations are taken each hour are all tested.
Depending on the results of the sleep study, a patient may be diagnosed with sleep apnea. If they are, they are often advised to use a CPAP machine that comes with a mask they wear while sleeping. The machine gently blows pressurized air through the airways at a constant pressure to keep the throat from closing. These machines can be uncomfortable to use, leaving the patient to abandon it while still dealing with obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is also known to increase blood pressure and has been linked to a number of other cardiovascular problems. That is why finding appropriate and effective treatment for sleep apnea is so important.
CPAP machines don’t work for everyone. That’s why there are also custom-made mouthpieces available. They aim to do the same thing as the CPAP machine, just without the mask and need for an outlet to run the machine. These mouthpieces are worn while the patient is sleeping. They help to move the lower jaw back to a comfortable position, allowing the tissues at the back of the throat to relax. This ensures the base of the tongue doesn’t collapse and block the airway.
Mouthpieces have been found to be most effective in patients who suffer from mild to moderate cases of sleep apnea. After a visit with your doctor and a completed sleep study, you will know whether a mouthpiece is right for you. There are different brands of mouthpieces on the market, so it’s important to work with a professional to make sure you are getting the one that works best for you.
If you’re experiencing dental problems and suspect you may have sleep apnea, contact Dr. Mark Levy. Dr. Levy is a sleep apnea specialist who has treated countless patients suffering from sleep apnea. He has been using oral appliance therapy and mouthpieces to treat sleep apnea since 2005. Dr. Levy can tell you what dental problems may be contributing to your sleep apnea and how you can treat the condition. As a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine as well as the Academy of Clinical Sleep Disorders Disciplines, Dr. Levy has also completed hundreds of hours of continuing education and is highly experienced in his field.