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The Connection Between Oral Health & Sleep Apnea

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Snoring and insomnia are more than normal sleeping problems, they are actually signs of a sleep disorder called Sleep Apnea. You might not think that sleep apnea can contribute to oral health problems, and vice versa, some dental problems can also cause sleep apnea. We are going to help you learn more about the connection between your oral health and sleep apnea.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

This sleep disorder is very common as it affects roughly 25 million American adults. It is characterized by repeated breathing interruptions (apneas) during sleep cycles. These apneas are caused by tissue collapses of the airway related to weak airway muscles, a large tongue, being overweight, or other risk factors. When these apneas occur, they prevent oxygen from reaching your lungs.

Sleep apnea disrupts your sleep cycle, which affects the amount of energy you have during the day. It also plays a role in your mental performance as well as long-term health. Having a good night's sleep is vital to our health. Even if you are getting 8 hours of sleep, but you are experiencing numerous apneas each night, then you are not getting the proper sleep needed for your health.

Untreated sleep apnea can be fatal. This might be surprising to you but it is because causes your oxygen levels to drop, increases blood pressure, and puts a strain on your heart.

Common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Reduced and absent breathing
  • Frequent and loud snoring
  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Daytime sleepiness and fatigue
  • Decreases in attention and concentration
  • Forgetfulness
  • Dry mouth and headaches upon waking
  • Nocturia (waking up often during the night to urinate)
  • Sexual dysfunction and/or decreased libido

In addition to the above, women can also experience symptoms like anxiety, depression, insomnia, and various sleep disturbances such as frequent wakening. Children can experience asthma exacerbation, hyperactivity, bed-wetting, and academic performance problems.

The major risk factors of sleep apnea are being overweight, a family history of snoring or sleep apnea, and being male. Additional risk factors include:

  • Being over 40 years old
  • Being a post-menopausal woman
  • A large neck
  • Large tonsils or a large tongue
  • A small jawbone
  • Nasal or sinus problems

Connection to Oral Health:

You might not realize that getting good, quality sleep not only keeps you healthy but it reduces bad breath, mouth ulcers, and the development and progression of periodontal disease (gum disease). Some dental problems that are associated with sleep apnea include TMJ disorders, bruxism, and mouth breathing.


Evidence suggests that Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders and sleep apnea go hand-in-hand. The TMJ is what connects your lower jaw to your upper jaw. You have two TMJ joints, one on each side of your face.

Symptoms of a TMJ disorder include:

  • Jaw pain
  • Pain throughout the head, neck, and shoulders
  • Problems chewing
  • Jaw joints that make clicking or grinding sounds
  • Locked jaw (the inability to open or close the mouth for a period of time)


Bruxism is a fancy name for grinding the teeth or clenching the jaw. While this can happen at any time, it occurs more frequently when a person is sleeping. Bruxism can have negative effects on your sleep, like not waking up refreshed and with headaches and neck and jaw pain. Bruxism actually can affect up to 31% of adults, and at least a quarter of them may have sleep apnea.

Bruxism is considered a sleep-related disorder because it causes uncontrolled and involuntary movement of the jaw during sleep.

You might not even know that you are suffering from bruxism, but your dentist may discover evidence during a cleaning exam.

Signs can range from loose teeth to eroded tooth surfaces, or cracked, chipped, and broken teeth. If your dentist observes symptoms, then we might ask you about any muscular pain in your head, neck, face, and jaw, as well as dryness of your lips, mouth, and throat upon awakening.

Mouth Breathing:

Sleep apnea causes you to breathe through the mouth (mouth breathing). This might not sound like a negative symptom of sleep apnea, but mouth breathing results in dry mouth which can lead to tooth decay. Some more consequences of dry mouth are plaque, mouth sores, gingivitis (gum inflammation), and periodontal disease.

Sleep Apnea in Children

Typically when we think of sleeping disorders and specifically sleep apnea, we tend to think of adults and not usually children. But did you know that up to 4% of children between ages two and eight suffer from sleep apnea? If a child is experiencing childhood sleep apnea then might experience some oral health risks. For some reason, these are often overlooked. Sleep issues in children typically involve mouth breathing, which can create serious problems with their teeth and gums.

What to Look For

So you might be thinking, how do I know I have sleep apnea? Here are some symptoms of sleep apnea that are specific to dental problems. These are some dental symptoms to look out for in both adults and children:

  • clenching and grinding teeth during sleep, sometimes loud enough to wake you or your partner up
  • tightness and pain in jaw joints
  • sore and raw spots from chewing the inside of one or both cheeks
  • dull headaches that start at the temples

If you notice you or your child is experiencing any of these symptoms then you need to discuss these symptoms with us at Smiles for Health. We might be able to suggest ways to alleviate them. Your medical doctor can determine if your symptoms are related to sleep apnea or other sleep disorders.

At Smiles for Health, we can help to alleviate any dental symptoms you are experiencing through behavior modifications like improving sleep quality, managing your dental health, orthodontic treatment to repair problems with teeth misalignment, treatments for dry mouth, and/or a dental mouthpiece to manage grinding and clenching.

We can also create custom-made mouthpieces. While these can be a little pricey they can be life-changing in that they can dramatically improve your sleep and reduce some of your dental problems. There are increasingly more options for mouthpieces that are accessible online and less expensive as well. Just be sure to discuss these with your dentist before purchasing.

At Smiles For Health, we offer sleep apnea services so you can sleep comfortably. Call today to schedule your appointment!

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