Dental Guards and Sleep Apnea: Managing Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders
Grinding your teeth can have negative health consequences, from dental wear to pain in the jaw and head. And it can also affect sleep, just like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In this sense, different investigations in recent years link bruxism and sleep apnea. According to them, both conditions are interrelated, one causing the other. If that’s the case, can night teeth guards used to prevent nocturnal bruxism also help with sleep apnea?
This article will answer this question by exploring the usefulness of dental guards in managing sleep apnea.
Bruxism and Sleep Apnea
Bruxism and sleep apnea are interrelated-one can be the cause of the other. A person who grinds their teeth while they sleep can suffer from apnea. Likewise, a person with this sleeping disorder will likely suffer from sleep bruxism, that is, grinding teeth during sleep.
According to the latest studies, bruxism is a dental condition mainly concerning people between 20 and 50 years old, although children can also develop it. And when it happens at night – what we call nocturnal or sleep bruxism – it can also be a sleep disorder, which is quite common. It manifests when you grind your teeth.
While mild bruxism does not necessarily require treatment, some people have recurrent and long-lasting periods of this condition, which can significantly affect their teeth and overall health. People who grind their teeth while sleeping are more likely to develop another sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, that involves snoring and paused breathing.
A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine on 110 adult patients suspected of suffering from OSA indicates that bruxism and sleep apnea are related. The polysomnographic findings revealed that 86% suffered from OSA, and 50% also showed symptoms of bruxism. Plus, it is a more common relationship in patients with mild or moderate apnea.
Has There Been a Consensus on this Link?
The scientific literature that reflects this link between both pathologies is extensive. However, there has yet to be a consensus on its nature and origin.
The reason is double. On the one hand, the levels of concurrence of bruxism and sleep apnea vary from one epidemiological study to another. And on the other hand, because the manifestations are also different, while in some patients, the episodes of bruxism are before the respiratory pauses, the exact opposite occurs in others.
Thus, some hypotheses maintain that bruxism is the body’s response to respiratory pauses caused by apnea. In other words, grinding your teeth would be a way of trying to reopen your airways.
Other hypotheses maintain that this relationship is different. In this case, they suggest that bruxism would be a risk factor for sleep apnea since grinding the teeth would contribute to congesting the airways.
In any case, many research studies have highlighted how treatments to control bruxism have had positive results when it comes to preventing sleep apnea.
Night Teeth Guards and Sleep Apnea
Both bruxism and obstructive sleep apnea have treatment. However, the vast majority of patients with both disorders remain undiagnosed. Periodic visits to the dentist can be key to this. A review allows for detecting signs indicating the patient has developed these pathologies.
The definitive treatment for nocturnal bruxism is using dental guards during sleep. These small custom-made night guards cushion the pressure on the teeth and balance the forces exerted by the jaw, preventing teeth wear and other consequences of bruxism. So do these night teeth guards also help manage sleep-related breathing problems?
We are familiar that a night guard for teeth grinding prevents the upper teeth from coming into contact with the lower ones, relieving tension in your jaw muscles. It helps prevent facial pain and preserves your tooth enamel by acting as a bulwark that takes the pressure on your behalf. But what does it have to do with snoring or pauses in breathing?
These acrylic custom-made mouth guards cover the upper and lower teeth, allowing the jaw and the tongue’s base to move forward, which leads to an opening of the airways. Thus, these devices, well tolerated by bruxism patients, can also help reduce snoring and mild to moderate sleep apnea. Several models are available. The dentist will recommend the most appropriate one according to your needs.
The orthosis is manufactured and adjusted according to your morphology to provide great comfort.
Choosing between an upper or lower bruxism mouthguard largely depends on personal preference. Whether it’s up or down, you’ll be protected against squeaking and squeezing forces. Choose what feels most comfortable to you.
Choosing the Hardness of a Dental Guard: Hard or Soft?
Soft night teeth guards are the most common and work well in cases of mild or occasional bruxism. They are usually softer, light, and more comfortable. However, their lifespan is shorter.
Hard custom-made night guards are made from acrylic and are much stiffer. They are stronger and last longer but generally cost more. They can be used for more severe cases of bruxism. On the other hand, it is often more difficult to get used to it sleeping.
Never Undermine the Importance of Specialized Care and Lifestyle Changes
If you have noticed symptoms that make you think you may suffer from bruxism or sleep apnea, visit your dentist. They will carry out an in-depth study with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment and propose the most appropriate treatment if necessary. Going to the dentist regularly is important to maintain adequate dental health and prevent and address other types of pathologies.
In addition, other than night teeth guards, a series of lifestyle changes can help prevent nocturnal bruxism as well as alleviate sleep apnea, such as:
- Losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle weight as being overweight increases the likelihood of narrowing of the nasal passages and airway obstruction.
- Control stress levels.
- Create a sleep routine.
- Try meditation and yoga, as they improve oxygen flow and respiratory strength and help relieve stress.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption, as both contribute to bruxism and snoring by relaxing the throat muscles.
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