An unfortunate myth that many people believe is that the mouth is separate from the rest of the body. The separation between doctors and dentists supports this myth. This leads many people to mistakenly assume that their health problems do not affect their mouth, and vice versa.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
The mouth is the gateway to the body, and it often gives vital clues to what is happening in the rest of the body. For example, did you know that your dentist can probably tell whether or not you snore?
What is Snoring?
The sounds made by snoring occur because there is vibration of the soft tissues in the throat and airway. These tissues relax with sleep and lose their muscle tone. This allows them to move and vibrate when air passes by. As you breathe in and out, the lax soft tissue flutters or vibrates, creating a rattling sound (i.e. snoring).
Think of the sound made when a balloon deflates. The sides of the rubber balloon hit each other as the air passes through, and there is no longer any tension holding it open.
Many people experience an increase in snoring when they drink alcohol, which causes greater relaxation of the body. Some also experience snoring when they suffer nasal congestion, which enlarges the soft tissues of the airway.
Why is Snoring Important?
Snoring is not normal, and it often indicates a problem in the airway. The softened tissues in the airway, which create the sound of snoring, also carry the potential of blocking, or obstructing, the airway. Current statistics show that about half of all people who snore have a sleep-disordered breathing problem called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). This means that one of every two snorers has sleep apnea. That number is too high to ignore.
The louder and more frequent the snoring, the more likely you are to have sleep apnea. Sleep Apnea is a serious health concern that has links with other health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes among others. Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which you actually stop breathing for a certain period of time. During that period of time, you are depriving your brain of oxygen.
How Does Snoring Show Up in the Mouth?
As stated above, snoring is often a sign of sleep apnea, which deprives the brain of oxygen. When the brain does not get enough oxygen, it sends signals to the mouth to clench the teeth or grind them together in a forward motion. Pushing the lower jaw forward acts to open the airway and tighten those relaxed soft tissues.
Because of this increased incidence of teeth grinding in patients who snore, your dentist may first note signs of teeth grinding. These signs include:
- Enamel damage and wear (flattening of the biting surfaces)
- Cracked teeth
- Gum recession
- Enlarged facial muscles
- Scalloped shaping of the tongue (pie crust tongue)
- Callousing of the inside of the cheeks
Another problem that often occurs with sleep apnea is acid reflux or GERD. When something blocks the airway and the body keeps trying to breathe, the chest tries to expand, but instead of drawing air into the lungs, it just creates a vacuum, drawing acid up out of the stomach. Sleep apnea increases the risk for acid reflux, and acid reflux increases the risk for acid erosion of the teeth.
Acid erosion slowly wears away the protective coating of enamel on the teeth. Thinner enamel is more transparent, causing the teeth to look yellower in color. The lowered pH of the mouth that results from consistent acid reflux makes it easier for bacteria to cause cavities. The bad, cavity-causing bacteria thrive in a more acidic environment. Thinner enamel also makes cavities more likely by reducing the thickness of the enamel’s important barrier to bacteria.
What Does Someone who Snores Need to Do to Protect His Teeth?
There are several important steps you should take if you snore. These will not only help you reduce the damage to your teeth; they will improve your overall health.
- See your medical doctor or a sleep physician to determine whether or not you have sleep apnea.
Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, but the percentage is high enough that you should be concerned. The first step is having a sleep evaluation (also known as a sleep study) to diagnose any sleep-related breathing disorders.
- Follow up with any recommended treatment for sleep apnea.
For most patients with obstructive sleep apnea, the doctor will prescribe a machine called a CPAP. The CPAP functions to open the airway throughout the night through breathing tubes. Because the airway stays open, the brain gets enough oxygen, and the reflex for teeth grinding decreases.
Some patients cannot tolerate the CPAP breathing machine and opt for an oral appliance. The oral appliance is great for patients with mild or moderate sleep apnea (not severe OSA!). It also kills two birds with one stone. Not only does it tighten the tissues and open the airway; it also covers the teeth and protects them from grinding.
Some patients wear both a CPAP and an oral appliance because they can work in conjunction. Wearing an oral appliance allows many people to turn down the pressure on the CPAP, making it more comfortable.
- Protect your teeth from grinding.
If your dentist notes signs of sleep apnea or grinding, you should follow any treatment recommendations to protect your teeth. Wearing a nightguard to cover and protect the teeth from heavy clenching or grinding forces can save you thousands of dollars in future dental work.
By protecting the teeth at night, you prevent the need for the expensive dental work required to repair cracked teeth. A custom, professional nightguard typically costs about half the price of one dental crown.
More Questions about Snoring and Dental Health?
Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today and schedule a consultation with one of our dental experts. We can answer any question you have about snoring, sleep apnea, and the dental risks associated with them.