If you have persistent trouble sleeping, you may have looked for the cause and considered many common culprits like stress and anxiety, poor sleep hygiene, side effects of medication, chronic pain, excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption, and so on. 

But have you considered your oral health?

Though at first glance the two seem unrelated, what’s going on in your mouth and airway can have a huge effect on your ability to sleep. Let’s look at why.

A Clear Airway: A Key Component of a Good Night’s Sleep

A clear airway running from the nose to the lungs is required to take in the air needed to keep the body and brain functioning at an optimal level. During the day, when we’re typically upright, this is not a problem in healthy adults. But at night, lying down, the airway can become obstructed. 

The result: obstructive sleep apnea. This is when something impedes the flow of air during sleep leading to apneas, or pauses in the breath, that last several seconds at a time. These pauses lead to reduced air intake and less oxygen available for the body and brain, and they are a big cause of disturbed sleep.

Causes of an Obstructed Airway

Obstructed sleep apnea is associated with overweight and obesity, and that’s because people carrying excess weight are more likely to have extra tissue in the throat that blocks the airway when the muscles relax during sleep.

But just because you’re not overweight or obese, don’t assume that you can’t have sleep apnea. The airway may be obstructed due to a narrow, high, or vaulted, palate. Or it may be due to retrognathia, when your chin or lower jaw is too far back. In children, enlarged adenoids or tonsils are a common cause. (Yes, children can suffer from sleep apnea, too.) These oral health-related causes can exist regardless of weight.

Diagnosing and Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The American Sleep Association has called sleep disorders including sleep apnea a “significant health issue in the United States,” one that affects an estimated 22 million Americans. It is linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and depression, not to mention factors that decrease quality of life, such as constant fatigue and brain fog. 

Signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea:

      Snoring

      Gasping for air during sleep

      Frequent waking at night

      Morning headaches

      Daytime sleepiness

      Trouble concentrating

The only way to properly diagnose sleep apnea is to take a sleep test, which you can talk to your doctor about. If you think you have sleep apnea, or a bed partner has told you that you snore, you should address it promptly, as it can have a major effect on your overall health. 

Fixing Oral Health for Better Sleep

Treatment for sleep apnea will depend on the cause, though the first line of treatment is typically use of a CPAP machine. However, if the apnea is caused by a narrow palate, retrognathia, or another issue concerning oral health, then orthodontic treatment may be a more effective alternative. After a diagnosis, talk to an orthodontist (like us) about treatment options. Better oral health could be the key to a better night’s sleep.