At my last visit to the dentist, she asked me if I had sleep apnea. I didn’t even know that was a thing. She said my mouth was dry and that led her to wonder about the sleep apnea. She also said it must be going on for a while because she is seeing some minor cavities at the gumline as well as the early stages of gum disease. Can how I sleep really cause cavities? Is there a solution?
What you are facing is a sequence of events. If you look at the three images above, the first two (going from the left) portray both mild and obstructive sleep apnea. In some people, the muscles in the back of their throat relax into their airway. This tends to open your mouth and cause snoring. This can be devastating for your oral health. In your case, it is also leading to dry mouth.
Our saliva is an important aspect of fighting cavities and keeping our teeth and gums healthy. It contains minerals that help fight bacteria on our mouth throughout the day and especially while we are sleeping. When your mouth is dry, that keeps you from utilizing the essential minerals in your saliva.
Looking at the center picture, it shows the muscles going even further down. This is known as obstructive sleep apnea. It blocks the airway completely. For a moment, you stop breathing. Then your body will snap you awake for a second so you’ll start breathing again and you’ll go immediately back to sleep.
This can happen over and over throughout the night without the patient even realizing it. You will tend to wake up exhausted even with a full night’s sleep.
Treating the Source of Sleep Apnea
While in your case, you can treat the symptoms with something like Biotene. This is an over-the-counter remedy for dry mouth. However, this should be a temporary solution while you get to the root cause. While some dentists treat sleep apnea with a CPAP, many patients hate those and find it bulky. Dr. Krutchick prefers to use a simple orthotic device you wear while you sleep, which fits much like a sports mouthguard. The key difference is it gently moves your jaw into a position that puts your muscles in the proper position to keep your airway open. That is what you see in the third picture above.
I’m not sure why your dentist didn’t mention the solution. Maybe she doesn’t treat sleep apnea. I’d find a dentist who does and then go from there.
This blog is brought to you by West Seneca Dentist Dr. Warren Krutchick.