Sleep is the one function humans can’t go without to stay healthy. Most people are concerned about the total hours of shut-eye they get each night, but may not realise that sleep quality is just as important as sleep length.
Often sleep problems lead to poor quality sleep rather than a lack of sleep.
What are Sleep Problems?
Common sleep problems include:
Breathing through your mouth rather than your nose can cause a range of oral health problems. Because your teeth are exposed to air rather than saliva all night, you are at a much higher risk of cavities because bacteria isn’t being washed from the mouth.
The soft tissue in the mouth is dry which can lead to red and inflamed gums and even bleeding gums. Chronic bad breath is another symptom of mouth breathing.
Sleep difficulties can occur because mouth breathing may not deliver enough oxygen to the lungs at night causing you to wake regularly.
Sleep Bruxism (Teeth Grinding)
If you clench or grind your teeth in your sleep you are more likely to suffer from a sleep disorder. Also known as nocturnal teeth grinding, bruxism is a common problem that can be caused by stress, snoring, fatigue, sleep apnea as well as alcohol, caffeine and smoking.
Chronic bruxism can cause damage to the teeth, jaw pain, headaches and earaches.
Temporomandibular joint Disorder (TMD) – the joint that allows you to eat and speak and connects the jaw to your skull. Symptoms of the disorder include aching pain in front of an ear, locked jaw, clicking noise when opening your mouth or chewing food and pain in the jaw.
The Health Effects of Poor Sleep
Poor sleep can impact a person’s general health, quality of life, mood and performance at work or school.
In children, poor sleep can result in poor behaviour and schoolwork which can lead to an incorrect diagnosis of learning difficulty and behaviour-related conditions such as ADHD and autism.
Studies have also shown that a lack of sleep can lead to chronic health problems such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.
How Surgery can Improve Sleep
Often an interdisciplinary clinical team is needed to manage oral health-related sleep disorders. A surgeon may need to work in conjunction with a dentist or orthodontist to treat the problem.
Most sleep-related surgeries are related to treating sleep apnea. However, surgery can improve other sleep disorders.
Surgery for mouth breathing
A person may breathe through their mouth due to an obstruction. It may be a nasal or throat obstruction. Enlarged tonsils can be a reason for not breathing through the nose and once removed their mouth breathing stops. Surgery can improve a congenital disability such as a deviated septum.
Surgery for Sleep Bruxism
Surgery that treats sleep apnea can cure bruxism.
Surgery for Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD)
It's rare that treatment of TMJ includes surgery but some extreme cases may require surgical intervention.
How Orthodontics Can Improve Sleep
Some orthodontic treatments can significantly improve sleep problems. Research and practice in this area is still emerging but shows real potential.
Mouth Breathing – Children, in particular, may breathe through their mouth rather than their nose because they can’t close their lips entirely due to the position of their jaw, a bite that is off or teeth that protrude. Orthodontic treatment can ensure that a child’s mouth naturally closes at night so they can breathe through their nose.
Orthodontics such as braces can also treat the signs of mouth breathing such as the overbite and gummy smile.
Sleep Bruxism – wearing a retainer or guard at night can protect teeth from damage as you grind at night. Correcting a bite can protect the teeth from the excessive wear and tear that bruxism can do to teeth.
Temporomandibular joint Disorder (TMD) – An uneven bite may be the cause of TMD so orthodontic treatment to fix the bite could see improvements in the joint. Teeth grinding and clenching can also cause TMD so a mouthguard worn at night can improve the bruxism and TMD. Jaw-strengthening exercises also improve the condition.
If you are experiencing problems with sleep, make an appointment to see a sleep professional who may be able to diagnose the type and cause of your sleep trouble. They can advise if your problem could be helped with orthodontic treatment.