Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes brief, repeated interruptions to your breathing during sleep. While the link between sleep apnea and the health of your mouth may not be obvious, there’s a strong connection.
Sleep apnea can cause a number of troubling changes to your body, including your mouth. It’s associated with both severe gum disease (periodontitis) and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), a disease that causes pain in your jaws and the surrounding muscles.
During episodes of sleep apnea, the throat relaxes and the jaw naturally clenches to keep your airway from becoming blocked. TMJ leads to other issues such as:
Sleep apnea is a common disorder. Dentists see symptoms of the condition in their patients all the time. Your dentist may be the first health care professional to see signs of sleep apnea in your body, so this is one of the many reasons why regular dental exams are important.
If you have mild sleep apnea, your dentist can make a custom mouth guard or retainer-like device that will push your tongue or lower jaw forward while you sleep. This device offers you a more-comfortable, less-costly alternative to surgery or a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which can be bulky to use at home or when traveling.
If you have sleep apnea, your dentist can work with you and other health care providers to help you maintain good dental and oral health.