You may already know that sleep apnea, although sometimes mild, can lead to various health concerns, including fatigue, obesity, and cardiovascular issues. However, did you know that this sleep disorder affecting about 25 million American adults, with 80% undiagnosed sufferers, can also significantly affect your oral health?
At Aten & Garofalo Dentistry, we specialize in providing obstructive sleep apnea treatment in the Ballantyne area of Charlotte, NC, to improve our patient’s sleep, oral health, and overall well-being.
Our reliable Ballantyne dentists and sleep medicine providers, Dr. Deborah Aten and Dr. Anthony Garofalo are often asked about the effect of sleep disorders on oral health and how to treat sleep apnea naturally without CPAP. That is why they have created this post to explain the intricate link between sleep apnea and oral health, shedding light on its significance, potential implications, and treatments.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder affecting a person’s breathing, causing them to repeatedly stop and start breathing while asleep. These repeated pauses in breathing can last from a few seconds to minutes, disrupting their normal sleep cycle.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): This most prevalent form of sleep apnea occurs when the muscle tissues at the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open.
- Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): This type of sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send the proper signals to the muscles responsible for controlling breathing.
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, combines OSA and CSA.
All types of sleep apnea cause repeated breathing interruptions and lead to sleep disturbances. Because these interruptions disrupt sleep patterns, they zap daytime energy and cause excessive daytime sleepiness, low mental performance, and various health issues.
How Do You Know If You Have Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea can be a sneaky condition that is very easy to ignore. In fact, many individuals remain unaware of their sleep disorder until their patient partner nudges them to seek medical attention. So, how do you know if you have sleep apnea? Simple! By consulting your dentist, who can be your first line of defense in identifying or diagnosing the condition by evaluating the soft tissues in your mouth.
You can also watch out for the following sleep apnea symptoms:
- Frequent and loud snoring
- Choking or gasping for air while sleeping
- Daytime fatigue and sleepiness
- Forgetfulness or decrease in concentration and attention
- Awakening with headaches, sore throat, or dry mouth
- Mood changes
- Decreased libido and/or sexual dysfunction
- High blood pressure
Women may also experience insomnia, anxiety, and depression, while children may experience academic performance problems, bed-wetting, hyperactivity, and asthma exacerbation.
Important: Sleep apnea can become a serious health concern if left untreated, as it can lead to increased blood pressure, oxygen drops, and heart strain. Therefore, consulting a dentist is imperative if you experience loud, disruptive, frequent snoring or other symptoms mentioned above.
What Are the Causes of Sleep Apnea?
Various factors can cause sleep apnea, and it’s often a result of a combination of the following factors:
- Excess Weight: Obesity or being overweight is a significant risk factor as it can accumulate fat around the upper airway, narrowing it.
- Gender and Age: Men and older individuals are more prone to OSA.
- Family History: Genetic factors can increase the likelihood of developing OSA.
- Alcohol and Sedative Use: These substances relax the throat muscles, increasing the risk of airway collapse during sleep.
- Nasal Congestion: Chronic nasal congestion can restrict airflow and lead to OSA.
- Smoking: Smokers are at a higher risk due to inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway.
- Large Tonsils or Adenoids: Your lymphoid tissues can enlarge due to infections or allergies and block your airways when you sleep.
- Narrow or Deviated Nasal Passage: A naturally narrow or crooked nasal passage can obstruct airflow and increase OSA risk.
- Small Lower Jaw or Overbite: These affect your lower jaw or upper teeth shape and size, causing your tongue to fall back and obstruct your airway when you sleep.
Sleep Apnea and Oral Health: What Are the Negative Effects?
Sleep apnea can harm your oral health in several ways. Some of the most common dental problems associated with sleep apnea are:
Bruxism is the medical term for tooth clenching or grinding. It can happen during the day or at night, but it is more common and severe during sleep. This behavior stems from the body’s response to obstructive sleep apnea, where the jaw clenches to prevent airway blockage. Bruxism can lead to morning headaches and neck or jaw discomfort, tooth sensitivity, gum recession, tooth wear, tooth fractures, enamel erosion, and muscle tension.
Approximately 13% of adults frequently grind their teeth during sleep, while over 80% are unaware of this habit. Your dentists can identify tooth grinding and sleep apnea through worn teeth and inflamed gums and provide treatment for both issues with certain types of mouthguards known as mandibular advancement devices.
2. TMJ Disorder
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinge connecting your lower jaw to your skull, thus allowing you to open and close your mouth, chew, speak, and swallow. TMJ disorders, such as jaw pain, clicking or popping sounds, earaches, headaches, neck pain, and difficulty opening or closing the mouth, affect this joint’s function and comfort.
According to a study in the Journal of Dental Research, sleep apnea sufferers are twice as likely to have TMJ disorders than those without the condition. This may be because sleep apnea causes the jaw to move forward or backward during sleep, putting stress on the TMJ and surrounding muscles.
3. Mouth Breathing
Obstructive sleep apnea often makes sufferers breathe with their mouth instead of their nose, causing dry mouth. This increases plaque accumulation and tartar formation, thus elevating the risk of dental issues like tooth decay, bad breath, gum disease, mouth sores, and infections. While your dentist can treat these conditions, they will return unless you address the root cause.
Who is at Higher Risk of Developing Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
- Being over 40
- Medical conditions like stroke, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes
- Congestive heart failure
- Regular alcohol consumption
- Taking narcotics
- Chronic nasal congestion
How To Treat Sleep Apnea Naturally & Without a CPAP
While Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy is commonly used to alleviate sleep apnea, it has been linked to several side effects prompting people to seek a natural solution to their sleeping disorder. Below are some natural and lifestyle-based approaches that can help treat or alleviate sleep apnea symptoms. However, It’s important to note that the effectiveness of these approaches can vary depending on your condition’s severity and individual factors.
- Lifestyle Changes: Losing excess weight, engaging in regular physical activity, sleeping on your side instead of your back, and avoiding alcohol and sedatives before bedtime can help improve your sleep apnea symptoms.
- Use of Oral Devices: Our Ballantyne dental and sleep medicine center can create non-invasive custom-fitted oral appliances that reposition your jaw and tongue to help keep your airway open during sleep.
- Nasal Decongestion: If nasal congestion contributes to your sleep apnea, alleviating congestion using nasal sprays or strips may improve your airflow.
- Throat and Tongue Exercises: Practicing certain exercises to strengthen your throat and tongue muscles can help prevent airway collapse during sleep, thus improving your sleep apnea symptoms.
- Diet and Nutrition: Maintaining a balanced diet and reducing inflammation-promoting foods may positively impact your sleep apnea symptoms.
- Relaxation Techniques: Since stress and anxiety can worsen sleep apnea symptoms, incorporating relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga can help improve your sleep quality.
- Elevating the Head of Your Bed: Raising the head of your bed by a few inches may help keep your airway open and reduce the risk of airway obstruction.
Improve Your Oral Health With Our Sleep Apnea Treatment in Ballantyne, NC
Sleep apnea can negatively impact your oral health and overall well-being. Thankfully, we offer obstructive sleep apnea treatment in Ballantyne, Charlotte, NC, to improve your oral health and help you sleep more soundly every night.
Our Ballantyne sleep and dental care center team can detect symptoms early and even treat any other dental issues your sleep apnea has caused. Dr. Deborah Aten and Dr. Anthony Garofalo will evaluate your mouth to determine whether you need treatment for gum disease, tooth decay, mouth sores, or worn-down teeth and provide regular checkups to track your treatment progress. Call us today to learn about our sleep apnea and snoring treatment options and schedule an appointment to improve your health.