Sleep is something all of us need because the body does much of it healing while asleep. Plus enough sleep refreshes the mind and improves stress levels and productivity. But sometimes the simple act of sleeping can turn into a nightmare. Although different people require varying hours of sleep, some don’t wake up refreshed no matter how long they sleep. They suffer from problems such as sleep apnea, teeth grinding and TMJ.
There are several kinds of sleep apnea. One kind is a result of a blocked airway, another is caused by the brain sending the wrong signals and a third type is a combination of the two. Of these, obstructive sleep apnea which is the kind where the airway is blocked is the most commonly known. During sleep, breathing becomes very shallow and frequently stops completely. People suffering from sleep apnea often never realize it since they are after all asleep. But because of lack of sufficient oxygen the apnea can be quite dangerous because it limits oxygen to the brain and the rest of the body including the heart. Symptoms include snoring, gasping for breath and snorting while asleep so if someone is always telling you, you snow constantly or snort or gasp during sleep then you may have sleep apnea. Another sign is feeling extremely fatigued, lack of energy and loss of alertness during the day.
Teeth Grinding and TMJ
Teeth grinding known medically as sleep bruxism affects approximately 8% of adults. While it can be a symptom of sleep apnea even people without sleep apnea may grind their teeth at night due to stress, anxieties or even a side effect of some medications. Common signs you may be grinding your teeth while asleep are headaches, sore gums, teeth or neck and earaches. It can also cause TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder.
TMJ is the loss of function of the joints that hinge the upper and lower jaw together. These joints are complex so when they don’t work your entire jaw moves out of alignment with the rest of your face. You may not be able to visually see it but you certainly will feel it. As they lose the ability to close properly your jaw may snap shut with some force unexpectedly. Symptoms of TMJ include pain, sometimes severe in the jaw, difficulty or pain when speaking, chewing or smiling, headaches, popping the ears, earaches, neck stiffness and more. Without treatment there is unending pain from moderate to severe and as a result sleep is affected bring the sleep issue from grinding your teeth full circle.
In general we tend to just try to manage symptoms of a sleep disorder or resort to taking pills to make us sleep unaware that these disorders continue while we are sleeping. So instead of fixing the problem we can make it worse without meaning to. Routine screenings at a dentist in your area is the first step in treating a disorder like sleep apnea and sleep bruxism. Your dentist will notice signs of wear and tear on the teeth from grinding them and he will be able to test your bite alignment to see if your temporomandibular joints are closing properly. The dentist may use jaw exercises for treatment or give you a soft plastic covering for the teeth. These are worn at night to protect the teeth. Dentists also have training not only about tooth structures but the entire head. Therefor they can use certain technologies and measuring appliances to check the volume and efficiency of your airway. They also examine the bony structures in the nasal passage for blockage and can decide if there are issues with the soft fleshy tissues on the throat. Based on their findings they can refer you to a sleep center for assistive sleep therapies, for example a CPAP mask that when worn at night opens the airway. Some dentists can provide this therapy as well
Sleep disorders eventually cause serious health issues including death in some cases. Your dentist is your first and best option for diagnosis and treatment for gaining restorative restful sleep and overall health improvement.