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March 27, 2019  | by Dr. Benjamin Farrow

What does your Sleep have to do with Dentistry?

The Airway

The mouth serves an important function: it is part of the airway. In a healthy individual at rest, air will pass smoothly and quietly through the nose, past the pharynx, and down the trachea to the lungs.

While the mouth can serve as an alternative pathway for air to enter the lungs, the routine use of the mouth to breath can lead to poor air filtration, enlarged tonsils, and changes in facial structure.

This being the case, many dentists have taken an interest in the connection between the airway and the oral anatomy. We look at this as one more way for us to keep you “Happy, Healthy, and Whole.”

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Too many of us have our own sleep disrupted by either our own snoring, or that of a snoring partner. As challenging as snoring can be to those nearby, it is often a symptom of a much more serious health problem.

When the airways is obstructed, or not as open as it could be, due to physical conditions such as large tonsils, a narrow arch, or jaw position, a person can develop sleep disturbance or obstructive sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea, or simply sleep apnea or OSA, can cause fragmented sleep and low blood oxygen levels. This happens when someone pauses their breathing for more than 10 seconds. For people with sleep apnea, the combination of disturbed sleep and oxygen starvation may lead to hypertension, heart disease and mood and memory problems. Sleep apnea also increases the risk of accidents due to drowsiness.

More than 18 million people in America have sleep apnea. We have historically associated Sleep Apnea with older, larger men. Our awareness about sleep apnea increased for many of us with the passing of the Packers Hall of Fame player, Reggie White. For more information visit https://www.sleepapnea.org/

In recent years, we have become aware of ways that facial form associated with certain growth patterns that can impact how we breathe and sleep. Observable features of the mouth and face that can be associated with sleep apnea and sleep disordered breathing include:
- Narrow upper jaw often leading to upper tooth crowding
- Increased overbite from an underdeveloped lower jaw
- Longer lower face
- Dark shadows under the eyes.

For this reason, we have begun to make notes about such observations in addition to asking questions about our patient's experience with sleep. If you answer yes to any of the following questions, we would encourage you to talk to a member of our team at your next visit or contact us to schedule a consultation.

- Do you SNORE loudly?
- Do you often feel TIRED, fatigued, or sleepy during the day?
- Has anyone ever OBSERVED you stop breathing during your sleep?
- Do you have or are you being treated for high blood PRESSURE?

As your oral health care professional, we can work with you to get the help that you need. Whether this is an in-office treatment such as an oral appliance or a collaborative approach that benefits from the expertise of a sleep physician, ENT, or orthodontist we can find a custom solution for you.