Sleep matters. Trust the research. A study by the Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine found that people who got seven to eight hours of sleep every night had less of a risk for periodontitis. Why? According to another study by the Emory University School of Medicine, we produce extra inflammatory hormones when we are fatigued, and this inflammation is a factor in gingivitis and periodontitis.
There are five common sleep disorders. And to diagnose them, it often takes more than one health professional to recognize the signs and do something about them.
The most common form of sleep-related breathing disorders is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). According to the American Dental Association, it’s the cause of 80% of the sleep disorders in the United States. As common as it is, the ADA says OSA is also underdiagnosed.
Your dentist—and your bed partner if you have one—can be part of the diagnostic solution by screening for (or in your bed partner’s case, enduring) common presenting features, such as:
- Large tongue, tonsils or neck circumference
- mandibular retrognathia or micrognathia
- Choking, gasping or paused breathing during sleep (bruxism)
- Snoring (the loud kind, not the cute kind)
Having trouble falling asleep? Or, more likely, having trouble staying asleep? This may be due to bruxism—a condition in which you clench your jaw or grind your teeth during sleep (and sometimes unconsciously while awake). When you grind your teeth as you drift off, that nails-on-a-chalkboard sensation often wakes you up. And when you clench your jaw, you often develop a stress headache, which can wake you up.
The good news is during your dental exam, your oral healthcare provider will be able to detect the wearing away of the top of your teeth and the soreness in your jaw. Other good news: From mouthguards to therapy there are a myriad of helpful techniques to help you stop grinding and clenching.
If you are vigilant about brushing and flossing and eating tooth-friendly foods, but still have dental complications, you should talk to your dentist and doctor about narcolepsy. Chances are, if you’re narcoleptic (you often fall asleep inadvertently), you’ll know. But it’s easy to go unnoticed if you don’t get a lot of sleep or are working a little too hard or feeling a little too stressed. What doesn’t go unnoticed for long is the impact of narcolepsy on your dental health.
Studies reveal a mixed bag of results, but medications for narcolepsy may have side effects that are detrimental to oral health. Specifically, some meds have shown prevalence to reduce saliva flow, which means the mouth’s first line of defense against bacteria is being handcuffed a bit. Other anecdotal evidence suggests that medication may cause increased tooth grinding and/or jaw clenching.
Sleep-Related Gastroesophageal Reflux
Nighttime heartburn is commonly found with obstructive sleep apnea and bruxism, since the mechanical goings on make it easier for the esophagus to pull up stomach acid into the mouth. It can also occur if you’ve overeaten close to bedtime and your gastrointestinal system is in overdrive. Stomach acid sitting in your mouth and coating your teeth during sleep can take its toll, wearing away enamel and causing cavities.
Restless Legs Syndrome
Similar to the situation with narcolepsy, the medication used to treat restless leg syndrome (RLS) seems to impact salivary flow in many patients. That means you have less good bacteria fighting off bad bacteria meaning more risk of dental disease.
Hopefully, all of this shows you how integrated dental health and overall health is, and how annual physicals with a physician and twice-yearly dental exams and cleanings can work together to make you sleep better and your teeth look prettier.