Oral Health and Sleep

Over the last few months, you have heard me speak a lot about the connection between oral health and sleep. Although our oral health likely is not the reason we lose sleep when we have kids in the house, it certainly plays a role in the quality of our sleep. But quality is just the surface. Not only can our oral health hinder our ability to get the necessary sleep to function properly, but it can also create additional health issues that extend beyond oral disease and can even lead to death.

Let me pause because when you say something can lead to death, it can freak people out. Most people react in one of two ways. First, people overreact and worry they will die tomorrow. Is that possible? Of course. Is it likely? Certainly not. The second reaction is to assume we are being dramatic and trying get people to visit our practice. But we assure you, this is not dramatic.  

Untreated sleep apnea CAN lead to death. Will it? That depends. One myth we must crush is the idea that snoring is not a big deal. As in every medical situation, context matters. If you snore at night, that does not necessarily mean you have sleep apnea, but it is a sign that you are experiencing an airway problem.   Although many of us think of snoring as a benign annoyance, it is a sign that you should have your airway evaluated.

Many of us feel that snoring is merely a result of exhaustion or sleeping in the wrong position. While this is certainly possible, it is very likely that snoring is a sign of a deeper issue. And if people complain about how much you snore, you are the person we are trying to reach.

The truth about snoring and frequent inability to sleep well in a controlled environment is that it is a sign that there might be an oral health issue, likely an airway issue, effecting your sleep. When I say airway issue, I am not just referencing not getting a deep breath while sleeping. What it means to have an airway issue is to have something that is literally keeping you from breathing or – at a minimum – significantly restricting the flow of oxygen during sleep. It is hard for us to believe, but those who have sleep apnea literally stop breathing multiple times per hour during sleep and they often do not even notice. This is not only scary, but the stress that a person’s body goes through as they struggle to breathe during sleep, could lead to serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and death.

The real question is, how do I know if I am dealing with a sleep related breathing disorder? The first is obvious: You are exhausted during the day and/or wake up multiple times during the night.  Again, context matters, and you need to be aware of your environment. If your environment is noisy, then you may very well be suffering from a poor sleep environment. However, if you are in an environment conducive for getting a good night’s sleep but still struggle to do so, you may be suffering from something beyond a bad environment. If you or your bed partner notice   that you snore loudly or stop breathing during sleep, you are likely suffering from a sleep related breathing disorder. Additionally, going to the bathroom multiple times in the middle of the night is not normal, but could be a sign of sleep apnea. As you can see, simple things we have accepted as normal in our sleep patterns may not be as normal as we once thought.

What is the solution? Should you be sinking a lot of money into sleep solutions? Simply put, there is no need to make drastic changes to your sleep routine without visiting an expert. And we noticed the gap between a solution and the problem. We wanted to step in and bridge the gap. The truth is, despite all the good our medical experts do in general practices, they are often not equipped to handle the specifics of sleep issues beyond providing medication. Although these solutions might make temporary improvements, they will not resolve sleep apnea. Because so many sleep related issues surround oral health issues, we knew that we had an opportunity to help. That is why we have opened our practice to patients that need sleep related solutions, even if those patients are not part of our dental practice. We opened our doors to people that are struggling with sleep because we knew the impact, we could make by providing an oral health solution, approved by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, to treat this serious medical problem. This is something we could not be more excited about and we look forward to assisting anyone struggling with the quality of their sleep.

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