The Connection between Sleep Disorders and Oral Health

Oral Health and Sleep

Together, good nutrition, regular exercise and adequate sleep form the three pillars of wellness. While proper nutrition and regular exercise are widely discussed, sleep is often neglected. This situation is changing and there is a greater appreciation of sleep. 

About 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although everyone occasionally feels tired, fatigue is a chronic condition for some. Many who experience chronic poor sleep are suffering from insomnia or sleep apnea. These conditions can result in numerous health conditions and negatively affect one’s oral health.


Insomnia is very common, affecting between 50 and 70 million Americans yearly. This sleep disorder can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep. It is so widespread that symptoms of insomnia occur in approximately 33% to 50% of the adult population, according to the latest data from the American Sleep Association (ASA).

Studies have shown an association between chronic sleep loss and periodontal disease. Also, less sleep means less saliva production, which helps maintain healthy teeth and gums. In addition, insomnia can affect eating behavior and may lead to Night Eating Syndrome (NES), where people get out of bed to eat and usually don’t brush their teeth before going back to bed which can lead to the breakdown of tooth enamel.

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is another common sleep disorder affecting 25 million American adults, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). It is characterized by breathing interruptions (apneas) during sleep cycles. The connection between sleep apnea and oral health is the significant increase in tooth decay and gum disease. 

Many people with sleep apnea breathe through their mouths, reducing the amount of saliva production and allowing bacteria to do damage to their mouths and create bad breath. Dry mouth, bruxism and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder are risks that can be increased by sleep apnea. 

  • Dry mouth
    Breathing through the mouth can cause mouth dryness and lead to tooth decay. Additional consequences of dry mouth are plaque, gingivitis (gum inflammation), and periodontal disease. 
  • Bruxism
    Bruxism is the technical term for grinding the teeth or clenching the jaw. Dentists can spot tooth grinding in the wear on your teeth and inflamed and receding gums.
  • TMJ
    The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the jaw to the skull. Those who suffer from a TMJ disorder can experience pain in their jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement.

The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM) recommends that all dental patients be screened for sleep apnea. At Hughes & Hughes Family Dentistry, we screen patients during dental exams as part of our philosophy of patient-centered care.

Be sure to discuss symptoms with your dentist, who can suggest ways to alleviate them. Your medical doctor can determine if your symptoms are related to sleep apnea or another sleep disorder. This post is for educational purposes and is no substitute for medical care. 

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