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If you often find yourself waking up gasping for breath feeling like you can’t breathe, or have been told you snore like a bear all night, you might have a common sleep disorder called sleep apnea. This happens when the throat tissues collapse and block your airways while you sleep. If you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), not only does it harm your body and overall health, but it compromises your smile as well.

Sleep apnea damages the body when improper breathing fails to deliver enough oxygen to the heart, lungs, brain and other organs. It can also lead to depression, anxiety, and damage teeth and gums. Not surprisingly, dentists often notice your OSA issues before you do since they see your smile regularly for checkups. Of course, snoring and waking up gasping aren’t the only signs alerting you to sleep apnea.

Health Effects of Sleep Apnea

– Impaired memory and ability to focus
– Decreased daily productivity
– Daytime fatigue and drowsiness
– Decreased metabolic rate
– Depression and anxiety
– High blood pressure
– Lowered immunity
– Heart disease
– Diabetes
– Insomnia
– Dry mouth

For example, when you constantly wake up with dry mouth, your teeth and gums are prone to tartar (hardened plaque) buildup because of the lack of saliva. Sufficient saliva production is essential is for fighting cavities, as it rinses away food particles and neutralizes bacterial acids that damage hard and soft oral tissues. Unfortunately, dry mouth is a prime indicator of OSA.

If you constantly grind and clench your teeth (bruxism), you not only NOT get a good night’s sleep, but your tooth enamel is at risk for cavities. Bruxism can also cause TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder), which may leave you with pinched nerves, migraines and oral pain.

Sleep Apnea and Oral Health

When you have chronic depression, anxiety or are always stressed out from a sleepless night due to sleep apnea, there’s a tendency to have no energy or desire to do basic oral hygiene. The result? You can end up prone to cavities and gum disease (and your gums hold your teeth in place).

People with poor oral hygiene often end up with stained, chipped or missing teeth and can perpetuate a cycle of poverty. How? Because finding and keeping a job can be a challenge when your smile looks neglected, according to an ALICE report from the United Way. If you are experiencing dental problems because of sleep apnea, you’ll want to step up your daily oral hygiene routine and see your dentist regularly.

Treating Sleep Apnea

If you are worried you might have sleep apnea, the following treatment options might work for you:

– Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Machine (CPAP) – a machine that delivers the right amount of air pressure through tubing and a mask that keeps your upper airway passages open so you can breathe while you sleep.

– For those that have mild to moderate OSA and can’t tolerate a CPAP, oral appliances like a Mandibular Repositioning device or a Tongue Retaining device might be used. These are often acrylic dental devices that bring the lower jaw or tongue forward to keep your airways open as you sleep.

– Sometimes corrective oral surgery is performed on the throat so you can easily breathe as you sleep.

If you have questions or concerns about a possible sleep disorder, please call to schedule a consultation with our sleep specialists.