Sleep apnea is a common but a potentially serious and dangerous disorder where breathing routinely stops and starts throughout a sleep cycle. There is obstructive sleep apnea where your throat muscles relax, central sleep apnea where your brain does not send proper signals to the respiratory system, and complex sleep apnea syndrome where both previous forms are a factor in the overall sleep apnea symptoms.

Surprisingly, a dentist is often the first to diagnose a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea due to some dental health signs.

Grinding teeth displays signs of worn tooth surfaces that can lead to broken teeth and receding gums; all of which are signs of sleep apnea. Cavities may also increase due to damaged teeth making them more prone to bacteria. Grinding your teeth is an oral health sign to sleep apnea because it sends a message to your brain to wake up and breathe.

As you might imagine, the off and on again of your respiratory system can be incredibly dangerous. When your breathing stops in your sleep, you can damage your brain and other organs that rely on a constant flow of oxygen to continue working. While you’re sleeping, you don’t have the ability to manually regulate or restart your breathing and the consequences can be severe.

If you suspect you have sleep apnea, here are some tidbits and facts to consider before moving forward with seeking treatment.


Because you are asleep, you may not notice the patterns of sleep apnea, but you may feel the effects while you’re awake. If you have a severe headache in the morning, wake up with a dry mouth, have excessive daytime sleepiness, or have been told you are a loud snorer, these could be signs of sleep apnea. A sleep study is the best way to diagnose it.

Other oral health signs that are also indicators and on your dentist’s radar are consistent throat irritation due to snoring, throat redness, a small jaw and a tongue that does not have a smooth edge, but is somewhat wavy or rippled.

Risk Factors

People with specific body types or health concerns may be more susceptible to sleep apnea. If you are severely overweight then the fat deposits in the neck can obstruct airways, smoking or general respiratory congestion can put you at risk, as can a family history of sleep apnea, age, and gender as men are more likely to develop sleep apnea than women. Any condition where your airway may be restricted can result in sleep apnea.


When your body stops breathing periodically throughout the night, it can have serious repercussions. The sudden and repetitive drop in blood oxygen levels can cause cardiac problems to develop, you could develop excessive daytime fatigue as well as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and liver problems. You could even cause problems for your partner’s ability to sleep soundly.

Related Questions

How Is It Diagnosed?

Although a dentist may be the first to see the symptoms, he or she will probably recommend a sleep study and seeing a medical doctor. Sleep apnea is best diagnosed with a sleep study, either monitored or at home, where you will be observed in some fashion while you sleep. Many sleep apnea symptoms can be signs of other conditions, so a sleep study is the best way to diagnose this.

How Can My Dentist Help?

Dental sleep medicine focuses on helping to treat sleep related oral disorders including grinding, clenching, sleep apnea, and more. In conjunction with a sleep physician, your dentist may be able to help administer a treatment for your sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea can be serious, but it doesn’t have to be forever, start with a talk with your doctor to find out your diagnosis and treatment options. Regular dental check ups can help with early detection so that you can get answers and treatment right away.

Seeing the dentist twice a year for a dental checkup is not only highly recommended, it’s being proactive about your overall health. Our Walled Lake Dental Office is committed to the long-term dental health of each patient through our personalized dentistry which includes a full range of dental services including cosmetic dentistry, dental treatments such as dental implants, children’s dentistry and more!

Dr. Hechtman has been providing dental care for over 40 years and with continuing education as a priority and stays current with the latest technology and proven techniques. Contact us today for a Free Dental Consultation!