Sleep apnoea is a sleep disorder categorised by interruptions in a person’s breathing during sleep. Each pause can last for a few seconds to a few minutes and they happen many times a night. In the most common form, this follows loud snoring. There may be a choking or snorting sound as breathing resumes. As the disorder disrupts normal sleep, those affected may experience sleepiness or feel tired during the day.
Dentists and sleep apnoea
You may be surprised if you find your dentist asking you about your sleep. After all, what on earth has that got to do with your teeth? Well, truth be told, dentists are often the first to diagnose a sleep disorder such as sleep apnoea.
Dentists will be able to pick up on possible sleep disorders by noticing the state of your teeth. The first sign of sleep apnoea is often tooth grinding (also known as bruxism). Your dentist will look for worn tooth surfaces, which is a sign that you may be grinding your teeth. Grinding can cause tooth wear and breakage as well as inflamed and receding gums. A spike in cavities can also be a sign of grinding because the force damages teeth, making them susceptible to cavity-causing bacteria.
However, teeth grinding is but one sign of sleep apnoea, there are other ways in which a dentist can tell that you may be experiencing a sleep disorder. A small jaw, tongue with scalloped edges, or redness in the throat (caused by heavy snoring) are also signs.
How can your dentist help?
Aside from diagnosing sleep issues such as sleep apnoea – your dentist may also be able to help you to treat the issue. Your dentist may prescribe you an oral device to wear at night to help you with the condition. These devices, which look like mouthguards, push the lower jaw forward. In this position, the muscles which collapse during apnoeas tighten so that they can’t fall down. Over time, oral appliances can make the airway stronger and more rigid so that they can reduce or eliminate apnoea. Some are adjustable, allowing users to alter the position where the jaw sits when they’re in place.
If sleep apnoea is getting in the way of a good night’s sleep – contact your dentist!