The Connection Between Oral Health and General Health

Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Your sleep impacts every aspect of your health and daily life. Sleeping well helps you look, feel and perform your best. But a sleep problem can be harmful to your health and well-being. One of the most common sleep problems is obstructive sleep apnea. Learn more about the warning signs and how you can get help.

About Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Nearly 30 million adults in the U.S. have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which can cause them to stop breathing hundreds of times a night for anywhere from a few seconds to more than a minute.

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that occurs when your muscles relax during sleep, allowing soft tissue to collapse and block the airway. As a result, repeated breathing pauses occur, which often reduce your oxygen levels. These breathing pauses are followed by brief awakenings that disturb your sleep.

Common signs of sleep apnea include snoring and gasping or choking sounds during sleep. Like snoring, sleep apnea is more common in men, but it can occur in women too, especially during and after menopause. Having excess body weight, a narrow airway or misaligned jaw all increase the risk of sleep apnea.

Is Treating OSA Important?
Treating obstructive sleep apnea is incredibly important to your health. When left untreated, sleep apnea often causes excessive daytime sleepiness or fatigue, as well as morning headaches and memory loss. Sleep apnea also is a threat to your safety as it increases your risk of drowsy driving and workplace accidents. Untreated sleep apnea raises your risk for serious health problems. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic acid reflux
  • Erectile dysfunction

Severe, untreated sleep apnea even increases your risk of death.

How is OSA Diagnosed?
Kleinheinz Dentistry is proud to offer a Free Sleep Study. Call our office for more information. 704-542-6003.

How is OSA Treated?

Dr. Kleinheinz can discuss treatment options with you. We will provide a FREE SLEEP STUDY at your convenience.

  • Oral appliance therapy uses a mouth guard-like device - worn only during sleep - to maintain an open, unobstructed airway.

Research shows that oral appliance therapy is an effective treatment option for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. An oral appliance is worn in the mouth only while you sleep and fits like a sports mouth guard or an orthodontic retainer. Oral appliances support your jaw in a forward position to help maintain an open upper airway.

Many patients consider a sleep apnea appliance to be more comfortable to wear than a CPAP mask. Oral appliances also are quiet, portable and easy to care for.

If you decide that oral appliance therapy is the best treatment option for you, then Dr. Kleinheinz will recommend a prescription for you to receive a custom-made sleep apnea appliance. More than 100 oral appliances have received FDA clearance. We prescribe and make the FDA approved appliances. Oral appliance therapy is covered by many medical insurance plans. We will do a complete benefits check upon your scheduled appointment.

Gum disease can affect your heart and body.

Maintaining good oral health has many rewards: A sparkling smile, fresh breath, and healthy gums. But recent scientific evidence suggests that it may have an even greater benefit to your overall health: Specifically, it could potentially reduce your risk for a number of systemic (whole-body) diseases, including cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis — even premature birth.

Periodontal (gum) disease is estimated to affect nearly half of all Americans, and is the major cause of adult tooth loss. Numerous studies have shown that patients with severe periodontal disease are at increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Periodontitis may also increase the chance that diabetes will develop or progress, and research suggests an association between gum disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes as well.

Inflammation: Friend and Foe

Gum inflammation.What's the link between diseases of the mouth — like gum disease — and those of the body? They are connected by the body's natural reaction to harmful stimuli, which we call the inflammatory response. Often characterized by pain, redness and swelling, inflammation is a process by which your immune system responds to damage or disease in your tissues. Inflammation can help the body heal — or, if it becomes chronic, it can lead to more serious problems.

Gum disease (periodontitis), CVD, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis are all associated with the same type of inflammatory response. Studies have found that moderate to severe periodontitis tends to increase the level of systemic inflammation — a condition that may smolder in the background, awaiting the right conditions to flare into a more serious disease. It has also been shown that the same strains of bacteria that are found in inflamed gum tissue may also appear in the arterial plaques of individuals suffering from CVD.

How Does It Work?

While there is intriguing evidence of a link between gum disease and other systemic diseases, further studies will be needed to prove whether one causes the other. At present, however, several mechanisms have been proposed to explain how the connection works. One suggestion is that oral bacteria themselves may enter the bloodstream, form into clumps, and trigger systemic inflammation. The inflammatory response can cause swelling of cells and tissues, which narrow the arteries and increase the risk of blood clots.

Another possibility is that byproducts of oral bacteria released into the bloodstream could trigger the production of substances called CRPs (C-reactive proteins) in the liver. These proteins tend to inflame blood vessels and promote the formation of clots, possibly leading to clogged arteries, heart disease and stroke. Elevated CRP levels, according to some studies, are a stronger predictor of heart attack than cholesterol levels.

What You Can Do

Since chronic inflammation is a systemic problem, the best way to begin controlling it is via a whole-body approach. Maintaining a healthy weight, getting moderate exercise (and, if you use tobacco, quitting the habit) will help with this. So will bringing untreated inflammatory diseases, such as periodontitis, under control.

There are a number of effective treatments for periodontal disease, including nonsurgical procedures such as root cleaning and the local application of antimicrobials. For more serious conditions, conventional or laser gum surgery is an option. Finally, to keep your gums healthy between office visits, you need to develop an effective oral hygiene routine you can practice at home.

Although it's too early to say that periodontal disease causes heart disease or other systemic conditions, they seem to have a connection. And while medicine and dentistry can't change genetics, together we can control external factors like excess weight, tobacco use… and gum disease. Maintaining good oral hygiene is the best way to avoid periodontal problems. But if problems occur, don't wait: The sooner you have treatment, the better your chances for controlling gum disease — and perhaps systemic diseases too.

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