Sleep Apnea & Oral Health: How Your Dentist Can Help.

Have you woken in your sleep feeling like you can’t breathe? Does your partner comment on your breathing while you’re asleep?  It is estimated that 29% of Canadian adults will either be diagnosed with sleep apnea or have symptoms associated with sleep apnea, which puts them at high risk for developing the disorder. This disorder can have a detrimental effect on your oral and physical health. We’re going to tell you more about what causes it and how your dentist can help you with diagnosis and treatment. 

What causes sleep apnea? 

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder where the upper airway gets blocked, causing your breathing to stop and start throughout the night. Blockage in the airway can be caused by relaxed throat muscles or the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapsing or closing. This disorder can be related to both lifestyle factors and oral anatomy.  It is more common in people with extra fatty tissue surrounding the throat and in people with large tongues, misaligned jaws, or enlarged tonsils.


How does sleep apnea affect my oral health? 

This disorder causes you to breathe through your mouth, resulting in dry mouth and various oral health concerns such as plaque buildup, mouth sores, halitosis (bad breath), tooth decay, bruxism (grinding) and associated TMJ problems, gingivitis, and an increased risk of developing periodontal disease. 

Your Saskatoon dentist is the best defence.

Dentists are vital to help diagnose sleep apnea before it jeopardizes your oral and overall health. Your dentist can screen for risk factors such as oral anatomy conditions and soft-tissue presentation that lead to increased mouth breathing. During regular dental examinations, they’ll look for: 

  • Large tongue or large tonsils
  • Malocclusion (overbite or underbite)
  • Large, thick neck
  • Small or recessed chin
  • Signs of bruxism such as eroded enamel 
  • Obesity 
  • Reports of choking or gasping at night 
  • Irregular or loud snoring

If your dentist finds these, they may refer you to a doctor or sleep specialist and work with them throughout the process of diagnoses and treatment.

Man with sleep apnea snoring beside girlfriend

What can my dentist do about my sleep apnea?

People with sleep apnea or symptoms should visit their dentist regularly for a thorough assessment of their teeth and gums. Depending on the nature and cause of your sleep apnea, the two most common treatments for sleep apnea are:

  • Positive Airway Pressure therapy: A CPAP machine is a device that emits a continuous stream of air that opens the airway and eliminates obstructions. This also leads to increased dry mouth and associated oral health risks, which should be monitored closely by your dentist.
  • Oral appliance therapy: a custom-fitted mouthguard can help keep the airway open during sleep and reduce apneas through the night. Your dentist can help make and maintain your oral appliance. 

Regular Dental Exams or Virtual Dental Consultations for Sleep Apnea

Understanding the link between sleep apnea and your dental health is an important way to protect yourself against both! During your next dental exam, ask your dentist about sleep apnea screening to make sure you aren’t at risk.  

A virtual consultation connects you with one of our dentists from the comfort of your home. If you have concerns about your oral health during sleep or think you might be developing sleep apnea, we’d be happy to book you a virtual appointment with our Saskatoon dentists, no matter where you are. 

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