New research may be changing the focus of treatment for sufferers of bruxism (grinding teeth), TMD (temporomandibular disorders of jaw muscles, joints and/or nerves) or occlusion issues.
Traditionally, dentists have treated these disorders with mechanical devices such as night guards. These devices are effective in minimizing damage, but they do not address the causes of the behavior.
Now, several studies reveal these problems may be triggered by sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by frequent, brief breathing pauses during sleep.
Some disruption in sleep patterns is normal, but individuals with apnea may stop breathing hundreds of times a night. These microarousals can be caused by medical issues such as an airway blockage or significant increase of acid in the esophagus (obstructive sleep apnea), the brain’s failure to signal the muscles to breathe (central sleep apnea) or both (mixed sleep apnea).
People who have sleep apnea often don’t know it because they don’t awaken during the breathing pauses. They attribute the common symptoms – loud snoring, restless sleep and daytime fatigue – to other origins.
The American Sleep Apnea Association website (http://www.SleepApnea.org) offers screening questionnaires that can help you determine whether you should talk to your health professional.
If are diagnosed with sleep apnea, you have a lot of company. The Sleep Apnea Association reports that more than 18 million Americans suffer from this disorder. Men, especially African American and Hispanic men, are more than twice as likely as women to be afflicted.
Although anyone, even children, can have sleep apnea, there are factors that increase your risk. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of these are obesity, being older than 60, using alcohol or tranquilizers, smoking, difficulty breathing through your nose, or a heart problem, stroke or brain tumor.
Sleep apnea is serious. WebMD lists these seven possible consequences of untreated sleep apnea: high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, weight gain, adult asthma, acid reflux and car accidents caused by drowsiness.
The most common and most reliable method of treating sleep apnea is with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. This device keeps your air passages open by delivering greater air pressure through a mask placed over your nose while you sleep. It can feel cumbersome or uncomfortable at first, but most people do get used to it, and it does offer tremendous relief, as many testimonials reveal. Other treatment options include different airway pressure devices, surgery, jaw repositioning and supplemental oxygen.
You can help yourself, too, by quitting smoking, losing weight and abstaining from alcohol before sleep.
If you have bruxism, TMD or occlusion, this recent information correlating them with sleep apnea may suggest a new approach to your treatment. Resolving your sleep apnea also may resolve, or improve, your dental disorders. It’s definitely worth checking out.