Sleep apnea is an increasingly common condition, particularly in Canada. What many people don’t realize is that sudden periods of difficult breathing or struggling to inhale could be affecting their dental health in the long term.
As a sleep disorder, sleep apnea is often diagnosed by a medical physician. However, its early signs are easily recognized by dentists. This is because apnea, a condition in which a person physically cannot breathe for short periods of time while sleeping, leaves telltale fingerprints in the mouth. But what are these fingerprints, and can they be prevented?
One of the most frequently seen symptoms of sleep apnea sufferers is decreased or poor oral hygiene. Sleep apnea has many effects on an individual, including increased rates of anxiety, depression, and exhaustion. Studies have shown that people feeling these emotions are less invested in their oral health and will neglect regular brushing and flossing, often for days at a time.
When someone is not managing their oral hygiene on a regular basis, it allows plaque and bacteria to build up in the mouth. This plaque is a central cause of tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease.
Canker sores are uncomfortable, fluid-filled sores inside of the mouth. They are different from cold sores in that they are not caused by the Herpes virus and appear in the mouth instead of outside of it. These sores can be caused by anxiety, stress, and trauma inside of the mouth caused by sleep apnea and trouble sleeping.
If someone starts to have more canker sores than normal, it could be a sign of uncomfortable sleep and sleep apnea itself.
Sleep apnea is known to cause conditions like snoring or sleeping with the mouth open. When this happens, it can lead to the development of dry mouth. A dry mouth does not produce and maintain enough saliva, which is the mouth’s natural defense against plaque and bacteria.
Without saliva, individuals are more prone to tooth decay and experiencing bacterial infections in the soft tissues of the mouth. This means the gums can become infected, causing gingivitis and even advanced periodontitis.
Finally, it is common for sufferers of sleep apnea to have related conditions like bruxism. Bruxism is a condition where an individual unconsciously grinds their teeth and clenches their jaw. The grinding wears down the enamel of the teeth, making them more prone to chipping, cracking, and breaking. Grinding the jaw injures the temporomandibular joint, which connects the jawbone to the skull.
Bruxism can actually be treated in a way that helps reduce sleep apnea. A skilled dentist can create a custom appliance to be worn in the mouth that prevents the teeth from touching and holds the jaws in a specific position. This reduces bruxism and also episodes of obstructive sleep apnea.
When someone has sleep apnea, it can affect every aspect of their life. This is why it is important to seek a medical diagnosis and then help from a professional. For obstructive sleep apnea, a dentist can make the appliance mentioned above. A dentist can also help improve overall oral health and alleviate the dental symptoms.
Since the Canadian Dental Association (CDA) recommends dental visits at least once a year for an otherwise healthy person, it is a good idea to visit regularly for exams and cleanings. These allow dentists to notice the signs of sleep apnea sooner and direct people to the right office for help.
Call Dawson Dental today and schedule a free consultation. We have offices across Ontario so there’s always a Dawson near you!