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Curious if You Suffer From Sleep Apnea? Surprisingly, Your Dentist May Be Able to Help.

Are you struggling with daytime sleepiness?

Do you wake up feeling unrested, night after night?

Is it difficult for you to achieve restorative sleep?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you could possibly suffer from sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder.

If you’re suffering, you are not alone. It is estimated 30 million Americans suffer from Sleep Apnea, yet only 6 million receive a diagnosis and proper treatment (1).

And, if you think you may be one of the millions of people sleep apnea affects, you may be surprised to learn that your dentist can often be the first medical professional to spot the issue (3).

Not getting enough restful sleep is detrimental to your health - when you’re sleeping, your body is doing work to heal, restore, and repair your body. Long term, if you aren’t getting the 7-9 hours of sleep needed each night, it can take a colossal toll on your mental and physical health (2). 

In this article, we will discuss:

  • What sleep apnea is
  • How surprisingly, your dentist may be your first line of defense
  • The connections between sleep apnea and oral health

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition in which people stop and restart breathing many times throughout the night (4). 

There are two types of sleep apnea: Obstructive and Central:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway becomes blocked many times while sleeping, reducing or completely stopping airflow (4).

  • Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send signals to the body to breathe (4).

Your body does important work when you sleep. Restful sleep is essential for your body to heal and restore. It also increases your ability to fight off illness and disease, as well as maintain proper brain functioning (1).

Not getting enough sleep hinders the body’s ability to function properly, and what many people may not know is that it can also be very harmful to your oral health as well (5). 

This is why your dentist may be the first one to spot the problem.

How Can My Dentist Help?

To begin, your dentist can help by giving you a screening for sleep apnea.

During the screening, your dentist will ask many questions about your sleep and the symptoms you may be experiencing. 

There are also physical symptoms they will be on the lookout for. For example, people with large necks and long faces are more prone to having their airways blocked and suffer from sleep apnea.

Inside your mouth may also be some common signs that you have or are at risk for sleep apnea (5). 

These signs include:

Teeth Clenching and Grinding (Bruxism)

Teeth grinding while sleeping is common among people who have sleep apnea. This is because teeth grinding can be used in an attempt to reopen the airway after the soft tissue has collapsed (6).


Overbite is also common among people with sleep apnea because the position of your jaw is too far back. This not only causes snoring but also may cause your soft tissues to have a greater chance of collapsing and blocking your airway (5). 

Dry Mouth 

Because sleep apnea causes a blockage to the airway, people often wake to gasp for air or choke to reopen the airway passage (6). They often sleep with an open mouth in order to get more air, which leads to chronic dry mouth.

Tooth Decay

Dentists also look for tooth decay as a symptom. A dry mouth leads to an excess of saliva production which can cause tooth decay, gum disease, and chronic bad breath if untreated (6). 

From the screening, if you and your dentist determine that sleep apnea may be a possibility, the next step could be taking a Pulse Oximetry test. 

During a Pulse Oximetry test, a patient takes home a clip-like device called a probe (6). Clipping the probe to a body part such as a finger or ear, patients wear the probe while sleeping a few nights in a row to measure oxygen levels.

A pulse oximetry test is an easy and painless way to find out whether or not your body is getting the proper amount of oxygen. If oxygen levels are low, it’s a pretty good sign that you are suffering from sleep apnea (6), and your dentist can then refer you to a sleep physician.

Does Sleep Apnea Cause Oral Health Problems, Or Do Oral Health Problems Cause Sleep Apnea?

Generally, sleep apnea causes oral health problems, but sometimes it can be the other way around.

Childhood mouth breathing can affect how the face grows (7). It reduces the size of your nasal cavity making it easy to develop sleep apnea later in life.

In adulthood, however, sleep apnea usually causes oral health problems such as bruxism, dry mouth, and tooth decay as mentioned previously.

If you think you may be suffering from sleep apnea, the earlier you are able to get a diagnosis and treatment, the better it will be not only for your oral health but the quality of your life.

At Greentree Dental Group, we can help. With one of the most qualified sleep dentists in the Greater Columbus area, our practice is here to assist you to get the help you need.

Dr. Kear is a Diplomate of the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine - we also have a dedicated Sleep Treatment Coordinator to ensure that there is always someone available to answer questions or help in other ways.

The rest of the team is also highly trained, so you can be sure you’re in good hands.

Contact our office to make an appointment today.


1. American Medical Association: What Doctors Wish Patients Knew About Sleep Apnea

2. Delta Dental: The Connection Between Sleep and Your Oral Health

3. University General Dentists: What You Should Know About Sleep Apnea and Dental Health

4. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: What is Sleep Apnea?

5. Apnea Med: Dental Problems Causing Sleep Apnea?

6. John Hopkins Medicine: Pulse Oximetry

7. Lawson Family Dentistry: Mouth Breathing and Your Child

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We look forward to hearing from you. Call 614.459.5511 or request an appointment online to get started.