The Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Oral Health

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Snoring and insomnia are symptoms of a sleep disorder called sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can cause dental health problems, and dental problems can also cause sleep apnea. Find out more about the connection between sleep apnea and your oral health.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

It is estimated that sleep apnea affects 25 million American adults, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. During sleep, breathing interruptions (apneas) occur repeatedly. It is usually caused by tissue collapse in the airways caused by weak airway muscles, a large tongue, being overweight, or any number of other factors. When an individual suffers from apneas, they are unable to breathe.

Since sleep apnea disrupts the sleep cycle, it drains daytime energy and negatively impacts long-term health.

A sleep apnea that is not treated can be fatal as it can decrease oxygen levels, increase blood pressure, and strain the heart.

Common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Reduced and absent breathing
  • Frequent and loud snoring
  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Daytime sleepiness and fatigue
  • Decreases in attention and concentration
  • Forgetfulness
  • Dry mouth and headaches upon waking
  • Nocturia (waking up often during the night to urinate)
  • Sexual dysfunction and/or decreased libido

Women also experience anxiety, depression, insomnia, and sleep disturbances such as frequent waking. A child may experience asthma exacerbation, hyperactivity, bedwetting, and academic performance problems.

The most significant risk factors for sleep apnea are being overweight, snoring, and being male. Other risk factors include:

  • Being over 40 years old
  • Being a post-menopausal woman
  • A large neck
  • Large tonsils or a large tongue
  • A small jaw bone
  • Nasal or sinus problems

Connection to Oral Health

You need good, quality sleep to stay healthy and to reduce bad breath, mouth ulcers, and periodontal disease (gum disease). Some dental problems associated with sleep apnea include TMJ disorders, bruxism, and mouth breathing.


Sleep apnea and disorders of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) are related. Located between the upper and lower jaw, the TMJ connects them. There are two TMJ joints on your face, one on each side.

Symptoms of a TMJ disorder include:

  • Jaw pain
  • Pain throughout the head, neck, and shoulders
  • Problems chewing
  • Jaw joints that make clicking or grinding sounds
  • Locked jaw (the inability to open or close the mouth for a period of time)


As the name suggests, bruxism refers to grinding or clenching of the teeth. Sleeping disorders are more likely to occur when a person is asleep. Bruxism disrupts your sleep, causing headaches, neck and jaw pain, and waking up feeling unrefreshed.  Sleep-related disorders such as bruxism occur when the jaw moves uncontrollably and involuntarily during sleep.  It is quite possible that you may not even be aware of bruxism, but your dentist may find evidence during a cleaning exam. The signs of tooth decay range from loose teeth to eroded tooth surfaces, to cracked, chipped, and broken teeth. Your dentist will ask you about any muscular pain in your head, neck, face, or jaw, and any dryness in your lips, mouth, or throat upon awakening.

Mouth Breathing

A person with sleep apnea breathes through their mouth (mouth breathing). Dry mouth and tooth decay are caused by mouth breathing. Besides plaque, mouth sores, gum disease, and gingivitis (gum inflammation), dry mouth has other consequences as well.

What to Look For

Dental problems can cause some sleep apnea symptoms. Dentists recommend looking out for the following symptoms in both adults and children:

  • clenching and grinding teeth during sleep, sometimes loud enough to wake you or your partner up
  • tightness and pain in jaw joints
  • sore and raw spots from chewing the inside of one or both cheeks
  • dull headaches that start at the temples

Contact your dentist if you experience any of the above symptoms. It may be possible to eliminate them with the help of the doctor or counselor. Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders can be diagnosed by your doctor.


You may be recommended to consult your doctor if your dentist notices dental problems associated with sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is usually diagnosed by a medical professional who will prescribe corrective treatment measures, such as a CPAP machine.

Whether you utilize a dental mouthpiece to manage grinding and clenching or you undergo orthodontic treatment to correct misaligned or discolored teeth, your dentist can assist you in alleviating dental symptoms through behavior modifications.

A custom-made mouthpiece can be quite cost-prohibitive, but it drastically improves sleep and reduces dental problems. Getting a mouthpiece online and for a lower price is becoming more and more common. Don’t forget to talk to your dentist about these before purchasing

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DCA of Buffalo