Sleep Disturbances and Oral Health

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Sleep Disturbances and Oral Health

Struggling with snoring and sleeplessness? Call your dentist.

Sleep Disturbances and Oral Health

As we continue our series on oral health and how it impacts your overall health, we’re going to focus on something we all could use more of…SLEEP! Most of us are aware how long working and waking hours, caffeine, and never being unplugged are taking a toll on the amount of sleep we’re getting. It’s not just lack of sleep that’s negatively impacting our health, it’s also the quality of the sleep we’re getting. Conditions such as bruxism, (teeth grinding), restless legs, snoring may be indicators of a more serious sleep disorder known as apnea. Getting diagnosed and treated for some of these sleep conditions can help you catch up on your zzzz’s and protect your overall health. Did you know that your dentist can play a valuable role in diagnosing and treating certain health conditions such as sleep apnea? Read on to find out how…


Sleep disturbances and the link to oral health

Approximately 858,900 Canadian adults have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, according to the most recent Canadian Community Health Survey. In addition, more than one-quarter of Canadian adults say they have symptoms and risk factors that put them at a higher risk of having sleep apnea or developing the condition in the future. You’ve probably heard a sleep clinic can help you get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan while a doctor can help you lose weight to minimise symptoms, however, you may not be aware that your dentist can also help ease sleep apnea.


Understanding Sleep Apnea

What is sleep apnea?

According to WebMD, sleep apnea is a serious chronic condition that causes people to stop breathing at different times throughout their sleep cycles. There are two main types: Obstructive sleep apnea; and Central sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea. During the interruptions to breathing, called apneas, the airway’s soft tissue collapses. This collapse prevents oxygen from passing through the airway and reaching the lungs.

During central sleep apnea, the brain stops sending messages to the body to breathe during sleep. No physical disruption to the airway takes place, although the body responds as if an interruption occurs.


Both types of sleep apnea are disruptive to sleep patterns. People with untreated sleep apnea typically wake up feeling tired and lethargic. Left untreated, sleep apnea can have a significant impact on short- and long-term mental and physical health.


How Sleep Apnea Impacts Overall Health

What happens with untreated sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea increases the risk of several other chronic health complaints. These problems can impact mental and physical health. According to the Canadian Community Health Survey, Canadian adults with sleep apnea are 1.8 times more likely to have high blood pressure. They are also 2.2 times more likely to suffer from heart disease and mood disorders, including depression, mania, dysthymia, and bipolar disorder. Canadians with sleep apnea also have a 2.5 times higher risk of developing diabetes. In addition, global studies indicate a strong link between sleep apnea and strokes and obesity.

The chronic fatigue that comes with untreated sleep apnea can also increase the risk of injuries. People with untreated sleep apnea are significantly more likely to have accidents at work or when they’re behind the wheel. These accidents can be significant and fatal.


What is the treatment for Sleep Apnea? Can Sleep Apnea go away by itself?

Since sleep apnea is a chronic condition and it isn’t likely to go away by itself. The most commonly known treatment for sleep apnea and the reason why many people with the condition choose to roll the dice and take a risk with their health is a CPAP machine. The Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), machine provides pressurized air through a mask to prevent upper airway collapse but can take some getting used to.


Other treatment options for sleep apnea include:

  • Weight loss- 89% of adults with sleep apnea were overweight or obese, based on self-reported height and weight according to Canadian Public Health Services.
  • Avoidance of alcohol and sedatives which can contribute to the problem
  • Oral or dental appliances to re-align the oral cavity, explained below.


The Role Dentists Play in Sleep Apnea Treatment

Dentists can be a valuable partner for obstructive sleep apnea treatment. They are often the first to diagnose a condition such as sleep apnea. When a dentist thinks someone has sleep apnea, he or she will often recommend a sleep study.


Is teeth grinding a sign of sleep apnea?

It can be. According to the Sleep Foundation there is a correlation between sleep apnea and teeth grinding- one in four people with obstructive sleep apnea grind their teeth at night, and men are more likely to be affected. If you are waking up with signs of bruxism, headache, jaw pain, fatigue, you should be accessed for apnea.


How your dentist can help

Dentists look for worn tooth surfaces, and other signs 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 the grinder susceptible to cavity-causing bacteria. After receiving a diagnosis, a dental appointment can help people with sleep apnea learn more about their treatment options. Grinding is just one oral health sign of sleep apnea. According to WebMD, a small jaw, tongue with scalloped edges, or redness in the throat (caused by snoring a lot, another symptom of sleep apnea) are also signs.


Do oral devices work for sleep apnea?

Dentists may recommend wearing oral appliances. According to the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, oral appliance therapy is an effective treatment option for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). These devices can ease symptoms in patients of normal weight with mild to moderate sleep apnea by pushing the lower jaw forward causing the muscles which collapse during apneas to tighten so that they can’t collapse.


What kind of oral appliances help relieve sleep apnea?

Mandibular advancement devices, sometimes called dental sleep devices, are the most commonly used oral appliances. These devices look like mouthguards, and over time can strengthen the airway and make it more rigid to reduce or eliminate apneas. Some are adjustable, allowing users to alter the position where the jaw sits when they’re in place.

These appliances are also used for TMJ therapy or to prevent teeth grinding, other conditions that can interfere with quality sleep.

Dentists work closely with their patients to make sure their oral appliances are working and improving their symptoms. While the devices may be uncomfortable at first, many users should adjust within a few days. Regular monitoring and continued use help oral appliance users get the best results.


What are the benefits of oral appliances to treat sleep apnea?

  • Affordability: While adjustable models cost more, they’re still more affordable than continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines.
  • Comfort: Oral appliances are custom-made for patients so should fit well for maximum comfort through the night. It’s important to get a qualified dentist to ensure the proper fit. Some say they take getting used to but they are easier to get used to than a CPAP machine.
  • No risk: Using an oral appliance doesn’t carry the risks of sleep apnea–related surgery.
  • Effective: Clinical trials have shown oral appliances can prevent apneas, especially when patients follow up with their dentists as recommended.


If you suffer from sleep disturbances and suspect you have sleep apnea or are grinding your teeth give us and your doctor a call. We can access your needs and fit you for an oral appliance if appropriate. Sleep apnea can be a dangerous condition. Snoring and teeth grinding might be related. For more information on sleep apnea visit sleepapnea.org. Whatever your concerns are don’t hesitate to contact us. A good night’s sleep and improved health may only be a phone call away!