Welcome to Part 2 of Sleep Health and Dentistry! If you haven’t already done so, please read my previous blog about sleep health and dentistry to get an introduction on this topic. The purpose of this blog is to provide you additional information and knowledge to help you achieve and experience the benefits of great sleep health, oral health and whole-body health.
Grinding and Breathing
Studies show that grinding is an instinctual response by your body when you have trouble breathing. When you have a small airway or difficult breathing, the teeth will grind because grinding allows the lower jaw to move forward so that the tongue is also able to move forward and away from the back of your throat. With the tongue out of the way from the back of the throat, the airway opens and you can now breathe better.
Grinding is not healthy for your teeth because it can cause extreme and abnormal wear of the teeth. The muscles of the face can also be affected by grinding resulting in muscle tension, pain, headaches and migraines. Patients who habitually grind may also experience temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain and discomfort.
If you grind your teeth, it’s likely you may have sleep apnea or sleep disordered breathing.
Chewing, Swallowing & Breathing
In fact, our teeth are never supposed to touch at all. A healthy mouth and airway are when the teeth are slightly apart, lips are sealed, tongue is resting against the roof of the mouth and you are breathing naturally and easily through your nose.
Even when eating, the teeth don’t ever touch because the food is in between your teeth. The food acts like a physical barrier between the teeth and keeps the teeth slightly apart during chewing. The teeth will continue to be slightly apart when you swallow, too. Go ahead, eat and test this out for yourself. Amazing, isn’t it?
If you have a healthy airway and a normal swallow pattern, you will also notice your tongue will naturally rest against the roof of mouth and your lips will close together. This allows the airway to seal so that you can swallow your food properly. Have you tried to swallow food with your mouth open? Not easy, right?
If you find yourself struggling to eat, swallow or breathe through your nose during this process, you may have a sleep disordered breathing issue.
Deep Sleep (REM Sleep) and Grinding
When you are grinding, you are also not achieving that much needed deep sleep (REM sleep) because the muscles that do the chewing and grinding are active and “awake”.
The Relationship Between the Size of our Jaws and Airway
Our jaws are shrinking and this is not a good thing. Smaller jaws mean a smaller airway and a smaller airway means less oxygen to our brain. Our ancestors had bigger jaws, enough space for all 32 teeth and they were all straight. Today, thanks to our current lifestyles and modern diets consisting of softer and processed foods, we have smaller jaws, crowded teeth, and smaller airways. If you notice that your teeth are crowded, you may be suffering from sleep apnea or sleep disordered breathing.
Tongue Size, Tongue Space, Tongue Muscle Tone and Tongue Tie
Our tongue can contribute to difficulty in breathing and sleep issues. Having a large tongue and smaller jaws can lead to the tongue obstructing the back of your throat and therefore cutting off precious oxygen to your brain.
There are individuals who have trouble using their tongue due to poor muscle control and strength. These individuals typically struggle to chew and swallow their food properly because they are unable to get the tongue up to the roof of the mouth properly. The inability to get the tongue to rest against the roof of mouth negatively affects breathing.
A tongue that naturally rests against the roof of the mouth will result in healthy breathing through the nose. When a person cannot do that, the body will compensate by mouth breathing. Breathing through the mouth is not healthy and can cause many other dental and health issues.
Individuals may also have the inability to properly breathe through their nose because of a tongue tie. A tongue tie restricts the tongue from reaching the roof of the mouth and forces the person to breathe through his or her mouth.
The Dangers of Mouth Breathing
Dental issues associated with mouth breathing include the following:
- Dry mouth
- Irritated gums
- Cracked lips
- Gum disease
- Crowded teeth
Long-term mouth breathers are also more likely to experience the following medical conditions:
- Chronic fatigue
- Gut and digestive issues
- Head, neck and shoulder strain
- Sore throat
Screening for Airway and Sleep Breathing Issues at Your Dental Exam
At Creative Smiles Dentistry, we will screen for any airway and sleep disordered breathing issues.
We look for the following signs and conditions:
- Teeth grinding
- Acid erosion of the teeth
- Narrow jaws
- Crowded teeth
- Scalloped tongue (teeth marks on the side of the tongue)
- Tongue size, tongue tie, tongue muscle tone and tongue space
- Enlarged tonsils
- Inflammation and obstruction of the back of the throat
- Mouth breathing
We also have the technology to obtain a 3D image of your jaws and airway with our cone-beam computed tomography to assess the health and position of your airway, sinuses, tongue, jaws and teeth.
Along with the screening and 3D imaging, we will provide you with an easy-to-use and highly reliable home sleep test. This home sleep test will measure the quality of your sleep, the duration of your sleep, snoring, sleep positions and oxygen levels while sleeping. This report will then be interpreted professionally by a sleep medicine specialist.
The Time is NOW to Get the Best Sleep Ever and Feel Your Very Best
You now have the knowledge and information to achieve the best sleep ever, achieve higher levels of energy and feel better than you ever have before. Schedule your airway and breathing screening with us today!
Author: Jeannie Ju, DDS