Have you been told that you’re a snorer? Or that you stop breathing for periods of time during the night? 

If so, you may have sleep apnea, a common condition that is characterized by stop-and-start breathing during sleep. 

Sleep apnea can have serious outcomes, so if you do show symptoms, it’s important to check in with your doctor and your dentist about them. 

You may be wondering why your cosmetic dentist needs to know about your sleep and breathing. It’s because there is a link between your teeth and sleep apnea. 

How sleep apnea affects your mouth and jaw

Sleep apnea and teeth grinding often go hand in hand, which makes your dentist a key player in preventing and treating this condition. Your dentist is also in a prime position to notice other telltale signs of sleep apnea: redness in the throat, scalloping on the edges of the tongue, and a small jaw.

The types of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea can be triggered by different issues and is categorized into three main types based on the underlying cause. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

This is the most prevalent form of sleep apnea and it’s caused when the muscles of the throat relax. It’s common for sufferers to have their sleep disturbed anywhere from five to 30 times a night by snoring, gasping, and sensations of choking. The people who are at greater risk for obstructive sleep apnea tend to be male, obese, smokers, and those with thick necks and nasal congestion. Older people are also at an increased risk. 

Central Sleep Apnea

This type of sleep apnea is caused when the brain doesn’t communicate properly with the muscles that are in charge of breathing. Sufferers experience shortness of breath, being woken up suddenly, insomnia, and hypersomnia. Risk factors include pre-existing heart conditions and strokes. Men are also more at risk for this type of sleep apnea. 

Complex Sleep Apnea

This condition is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Treating sleep apnea

There are several treatments available for sleep apnea. 

One option is a CPAP machine, which comprises a mask that fits over your nose as well as a nasal pillow and a mask that goes over both the nose and mouth. You put on the mask before going to sleep and the appliance regulates your breathing throughout the night. 

Another way to treat sleep apnea is with an oral appliance that resembles a night guard or a retainer. It holds the tongue in place or provides support to the jaw to stop your airways from closing up while you sleep.

Talk to your dentist

Does any of this sound familiar? If so, be sure to mention it to your dentist at your next checkup so they can determine whether sleep apnea is a likely cause and what treatments, if any, are appropriate.