Sleep apnea is a condition that affects almost 22 million people in the United States every year. The condition can severely impact the body as the heart, brain and bodily systems can all be strained by the periodic bouts of no oxygen. However, sleep apnea can also have a significant impact on the state of your oral health by causing tooth decay.
What Exactly is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes you to draw in shallow breaths or to stop breathing while you are asleep temporarily. These pauses can last just a few seconds or few minutes and bring you out of deep sleep in a light sleep. In one hour, you may experience disruptions in your breathing as many as 30 times.
How Does Sleep Apnea Affect Your Oral Health
Sleep apnea is mainly attributed to having a poor airway, which causes your body to rely on mouth breathing. The saliva in your mouth, along with the acidity levels and bacterial activity are all affected by the breathing through your mouth.
When you breathe through your mouth as you sleep, your saliva will evaporate. The resulting dry mouth can be very uncomfortable when you awake, and the lack of saliva affects the acidity level in your mouth. Saliva provides the base pH levels your mouth needs as a protectant for your tooth enamel and as a tool to against bacteria. Without the proper amount of saliva, the environment in your mouth will have higher levels of acidity, which can be dangerous for your teeth.
Acidity and Tooth Decay
The acidity in your mouth that results from the dry mouth will begin to eat away at your tooth enamel, making your teeth more susceptible to tooth decay. The bacteria will grow and using the leftover food particles in your mouth, generate even more acidity. Other side effects of dry mouth may include:
- Increased plaque
- Mouth sores
- Gum disease
Treating Your Sleep Apnea to Protect Your Oral Health
Properly treating dry mouth requires that you address its cause. To prevent sleep apnea from creating the conditions in your mouth that can compromise your oral health, it is important that you get the proper treatment for the sleep disorder. In addition to affecting your oral health, untreated sleep apnea will continue to affect the rest of your health.
Many people who suffer from sleep apnea can successfully ease the symptoms caused by the disorder by using a CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, machine, which pushes pressurized oxygen through your nasal passages. For more severe cases of sleep apnea, oral surgery to reshape the palate or correct the alignment of the jaw may be necessary.
Treating Your Dry Mouth
While addressing the underlying cause of your dry mouth, there are also some steps you can take to treat your dry mouth directly:
- Get over-the-counter or prescription mouthwashes, moisturizers or artificial saliva to lubricate your mouth
- Ask your dentist for medication that can stimulate the production of saliva
- Use fluoride trays provided by your dentist to help prevent cavities