What's a dentist doing talking about sleep? Sleep medicine dentistry has been around for several decades, but the knowledge that our teeth affect how we sleep still hasn't gone mainstream.
So what do teeth have to do with sleep? Dentists are actually on the front line screening for sleep breathing conditions because the symptoms show up in the mouth.
The next time you're brushing your teeth, take a look in the mirror for these 4 clues that teeth give about the quality of your sleep breathing:
1. Teeth That Are Flat At the Bottom
If you're a grinder or clencher, don't just wear a mouthguard at night and call it a day. Make sure you're treating the true cause of your grinding and clenching. Protecting your teeth with a mouth guard will protect your teeth, but your jaw joint can still be damaged by all that grinding and clenching. Not only that, several studies are bringing to light that nighttime grinding is one way the body reopens the airway during a breathing interruption. This is why I refer all my patients who grind and clench to see a sleep specialist MD and get sleep study.
2. Gaps in Your Teeth
An orofacial myologist can help you to retrain the tongue muscle and swallowing pattern, letting you breathe better at night for uninterrupted, restorative sleep.
3. Crowded Teeth
This is why crowded teeth indicate something much more serious than just needing braces--it makes it much more likely that you have a small airway. A small airway is what causes breathing interruptions during sleep--interruptions we're not aware of because we're unconscious, but cumulatively do damage to our health and sense of well-being during our waking hours.
If you have children, see an orthodontist who isn't only concerned with straightening the teeth, but also considers the bigger picture of how the jaw and face grow together and affect the size of the airway.
4. Breathing Through Your Mouth
Check in with yourself throughout the day--when resting, watching TV, or lying in bed, is your default to breathe through your nose, or your mouth? Is it uncomfortable to breathe through your nose? Does it feel forced? A sleep specialist MD or ENT who specializes in sleep can help you optimize your breathing for higher quality sleep.