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Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Oral Health: Unraveling the Connection

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A disease known as sleep apnea causes pauses in breathing while a person is asleep, which can seriously impact overall health and oral hygiene.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Osheen Kour

Published At November 8, 2023
Reviewed AtApril 1, 2024

What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common sleep disease marked by recurring upper airway restriction or collapse while a person is asleep, which causes brief pauses in breathing (apneas) and decreased airflow (hypopneas).

There are various forms of sleep apnea. When the throat muscles relax and block the airway, obstructive sleep apnea happens. Throughout sleep, this occurs frequently and intermittently. Snoring is a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep issues, such as snoring and insomnia, may also indicate the sleep disorder sleep apnea.

What Is the Connection Between Oral Health and Sleep Apnea?

The connection between sleep apnea and dental health highlights the value of a multidisciplinary approach to healthcare. Dentists frequently send patients for additional testing after identifying suspected cases of sleep apnea through oral symptoms. Effective diagnosis and treatment of this illness depend on close cooperation between dental and medical professionals.

Furthermore, understanding how dental health and sleep apnea interact can improve patient outcomes. Early prevention can avoid oral disorders like bruxism (grinding, clenching, and gnashing teeth) and lower the chance of more serious health conditions like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes that are linked to untreated sleep apnea. These oral health disorders include

  • Dental Anatomy - Oral anatomy plays a significant role in the link between sleep apnea and oral health. A person's susceptibility to obstructive sleep apnea may be increased if they have certain oral traits, such as a narrow or retruded jaw, larger tonsils, or an enormous tongue. Due to these anatomical factors, the airway may narrow or partially close while a person is sleeping, restricting the airflow and interfering with the ability to breathe. The impact of oral architecture must be understood to properly diagnose and treat sleep apnea since it emphasizes the need for specialized treatment methods, such as mouth appliances, surgery, or lifestyle changes.

  • Bruxism - Teeth grinding, also referred to as bruxism, is a common symptom frequently linked to sleep apnea. The oral health of people who grind and clench their teeth uncontrollably may suffer. It can eventually cause dental problems like worn enamel, broken teeth, and even tooth loss. During routine checkups, dentists commonly spot these symptoms and may advise patients to have further testing for possible sleep apnea. Understanding the link between bruxism and sleep apnea is essential because it emphasizes the need to treat the underlying sleep disturbance to safeguard dental health as well as to enhance general well-being and sleep quality. Sleep is impacted negatively by bruxism, which can cause headaches, neck and jaw pain, and an unrefreshed feeling when one wakes up.

  • TMJ Disorders - TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders are a broad category of illnesses that affect the jaw joint and the muscles around it. TMJ disorders and sleep apnea share symptoms such as jaw pain, headaches, and sleep difficulties, and this connection is complex. People who have TMJ problems could feel discomfort that keeps them from getting a good night's rest, thus making their sleep apnea symptoms worse. On the other hand, sleep apnea-related disturbances in breathing during the night may cause muscle strain and increased jaw clenching, aggravating TMJ issues. For healthcare practitioners to provide holistic care that addresses both illnesses and enhances patients' overall quality of life, they must be aware of this relation.

  • Dry Mouth - Dry mouth is a common side effect of sleep apnea, which is primarily brought on by abnormal breathing patterns and decreased salivation during periods of disturbed sleep. Because saliva is essential for preserving teeth, dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, poses serious hazards to oral health. Saliva protects against dental decay and gum disease by remineralizing teeth and neutralizing acids. Reduced saliva flow, however, can undermine this protective mechanism when sleep apnea is present. A person's oral health may be harmed by the dry mouth that is frequently linked to obstructive sleep apnea in addition to its unpleasant effects. Because more dental plaque is produced when someone sleeps with their mouth open, they may be more prone to gum disease, and cavities.

With the right therapy and dental care, one can avoid dental problems that are related to sleep apnea and protect general health. Various behavioral changes and therapies might be suggested by a dentist to help with the relief of dental problems. Some of these might be enhancing the patient's quality of sleep, treating oral health issues, recommending orthodontic treatment to correct teeth misalignment, delivering treatments for dry mouth, and recommending the use of a dental mouthpiece to stop teeth grinding and clenching. These include

  • Oral Appliances - In the management of sleep apnea, oral appliances are becoming more popular. The airway is efficiently maintained during sleep by these devices, which realign the jaw and tongue. This demonstrates how important dentistry is to addressing sleep apnea because it gives patients a less invasive and more comfortable treatment option than older methods.

  • Orthodontic Treatment - Dental issues like an incorrect bite or crowded teeth can make sleep apnea worse by restricting the airway. The tight relationship between oral health and sleep disorders is highlighted by the possibility that this restriction can obstruct normal airflow while a person is asleep, leading to symptoms like snoring and recurring sleep apnea episodes. Hence orthodontic treatment is recommended in such cases.

  • Lifestyle Modifications - Lifestyle modifications, such as keeping a healthy weight, abstaining from alcohol and cigarettes, and maintaining good oral hygiene can be beneficial for both oral health and sleep apnea.

  • Dental Evaluation - A dental check might spot conditions that may be causing sleep apnea, such as malocclusion or bruxism. Sometimes, treating these tooth problems might reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there is a complicated relationship between sleep apnea and oral health. Oral health difficulties can result from sleep apnea, and sleep apnea itself can be exacerbated or developed as a result of tooth disorders. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is quite common, is usually underdiagnosed and undertreated. However, common OSA symptoms and indicators can be identified in a variety of clinical settings, including a dental office. A collaborative, multidisciplinary care team that comprises general practitioners and sleep specialists should include dentists as key members. The overarching objectives of this collaborative strategy are to improve the health and quality of life of people with OSA while decreasing the incidence of OSA-related morbidity and mortality. Together, healthcare and dental practitioners may more accurately recognize, treat, and control OSA, which will ultimately lead to better patient outcomes.

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Dr. Ashwini Kumar

Dentistry

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oral healthobstructive sleep apnea
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