The Connection between Tooth Decay and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

January 20, 2022

As many as 81 million people in our hemisphere currently suffer from OSA. That’s 37 percent of individuals in North, Central, and South America. If this number shocks you, consider this: How many individuals in your household snore, suffer from poor health, or complain of exhaustion, fatigue, and insufficient sleep? Poor sleep health can affect our entire lives, from our performance at work, emotional stability, relationships, and overall wellness. As our understanding of sleep and airway and their critical role in our health improves, so does our ability to treat and prevent other health conditions.

OSA is among the most common sleep disorders in the world. And recent studies have shown us that OSA is directly linked to the development of dementia, heart disease, diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s, and more—not to mention, those with poor nasal breathing often experience more cavities, bruxism, tooth loss, decay, and gum and periodontal disease.

Let’s focus on one of these conditions—tooth decay—and learn more about its association with OSA.

Tooth Decay 101

The human mouth contains a plethora of bacteria, both good and bad. And harmful bacteria, combined with food residue, create plaque. The bacteria in plaque use sugar and starch to create a more acidic environment in the mouth.

As for tooth decay, it is damage to a tooth that occurs when bacteria is left in the mouth, changing the pH and allowing bacteria to attack the tooth’s enamel. Tooth decay ultimately leads to cavities, possible pain, and even tooth loss, with the following signs and symptoms:

  • A toothache or spontaneous pain without cause
  • Sensitivity of the teeth
  • Pain when eating or drinking cold or hot substances
  • Visible holes in the surface of your teeth
  • Staining on the surface of the enamel
  • Pain when biting down

If you or someone you know is suffering from tooth decay, it is essential to visit your dentist. They can properly diagnose and treat your condition and ensure you live a healthier and happier life free from pain.

OSA 101

OSA is a form of sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) marked by a repeated collapse of the upper airway during sleep. This occurs when muscles in the back of the throat relax and the tongue fails to maintain proper forward suction in the palette, ultimately cutting off oxygen flow via the nasal passages. These apneic episodes, when breathing ceases, cause severe stress on the body, resulting in snoring, bruxism, mouth breathing, wakefulness, and more.

Originally thought to be driven solely by excessive weight, this condition more commonly results from an underdeveloped upper airway and orofacial structure, i.e., the maxilla and mandible. Why, you might be asking, is this underdevelopment occurring? Western culture. Limited breastfeeding, the soft food diet, and a lack of nasal breathing lead to a weakened tongue and reduced pressure on the inner oral cavity and ultimately fail to stimulate growth.

Signs and symptoms of OSA include the following:

  • Dry mouth
  • Exhaustion
  • Moodiness
  • Morning headaches
  • An inability to concentrate
  • Worsened oral health
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

If you or someone you know exhibits signs and symptoms of OSA, it is essential to visit your dentist. They are the front line to proper screening and treatment. If left untreated, OSA can lead to a host of other diseases that can significantly affect your overall health, well-being, and life expectancy, even leading to a host of comorbidities:

  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm)

The Connection

The connection between OSA and tooth decay is undeniable. OSA causes the individual to resort to mouth breathing, as the nasal passages do not provide sufficient airflow. Mouth breathing leads to dry mouth and ultimately tooth decay. Other consequences of dry mouth are increased plaque, mouth sores, gingivitis (gum inflammation), and even periodontal disease.

According to the Journal of the Indian Society of Periodontology, a recent study showed a “statistically significant association was shown between periodontitis and mild OSA compared with the periodontitis and non-OSA referent” with periodontal disease present in 62.3 percent of cases. This means a significant correlation and possible causation of tooth decay if the individual suffers from OSA.

As we learn more about the harmful effects of OSA, we better understand that it is a root cause and that early treatment equals a better prognosis. Better oral health means better health overall with better sleep, better breathing, and a better life. By educating ourselves, our friends, neighbors, and family, we can take a step in the right direction towards a fully developed, fully functioning airway and jaw.

The importance of diagnosing and treating OSA cannot be understated. As we’ve learned over time, it leads to severe and irreversible damage in the long run, such as tooth decay, periodontal disease, and a host of other comorbidities. If you suspect you or someone you love has OSA, speak with your dentist about taking a sleep test. It may be the key to living a healthy and happy life.

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