Could your mouth be causing your sleep problems?
There’s an often overlooked connection between sleep apnea and dental issues, according to Dr. Jill Morris. She says sleep apnea, TMJ and other conditions can often be linked to underdeveloped dental arches. When the dental arches don’t reach adult width, the result is a narrower palate that can’t fully accommodate an adult tongue, as well as a poorly positioned lower jaw. “The jaws don’t grow properly,” Morris explains. “The lower jaw is recessed, and the tongue is connected to the lower jaw. When you go to sleep, your tongue goes in your airway.”
Morris points to a number of possible causes for the underdevelopment, including childhood allergies, poor diet and processed foods. In addition to symptoms like jaw pain and snoring, Morris says narrow dental arches can be so apparent that she can diagnose them in people she sees on television.
With sleep apnea, after a period of paused breathing, the body kick-starts itself, and the lower jaw juts forward to reopen the airway—often causing teeth grinding in the process. The chronic teeth grinding then leads to jaw conditions like TMJ.
Fortunately, there’s a noninvasive solution. The DNA Appliance, developed by a doctor who once treated children with cleft palates, uses vibrations to stimulate growth in the dental arch. The device is similar in shape and placement to an orthodontic retainer and is worn in the evening and overnight. Treating the causes of sleep apnea rather than forcibly maintaining an open airway, the DNA Appliance is sometimes considered an alternative to CPAP machines and other cumbersome apnea treatments. The desired results are often achieved in less than 12 months, and treatment can start at any age. “It may take a little longer if you’re in your 70s,” says Morris, “but if you wear these things consistently, you’ll breathe better.”
Head and Heart
What your teeth and gums say about your cardiac health.
Cardiologists might not check your teeth and gums, but maybe they should. Gum disease has been linked to a number of whole-body health problems, including heart and respiratory diseases, stroke and osteoporosis.
“The plaque that builds up between your teeth is very different from the plaque that builds up in your arteries,” says Sarasota periodontist Dr. Thomas Rubino. But, he explains, toxins in mouth plaque can stimulate a chronic inflammatory response linked to heart disease and other conditions. Poor brushing and flossing can play a big part in your risk for a heart attack.
In fact, treating gum disease actually leads to healthier arteries—not just because it targets those damaging toxins, but also perhaps because managing inflammation in the mouth can reduce other inflammatory-related health issues. And treating gum disease isn’t just helpful for heart conditions: Anti-inflammatory gingivitis treatments can also have positive effects on arthritis, wrinkles and aging.
Halitosis Heads Up
Bad breath is more than just a social problem. Unpleasant odors in your mouth and breath may signal serious medical conditions like respiratory infections, diabetes, acid reflux and kidney and liver problems.
Loving Those Lasers
They’re hardly new technology, but you might not realize the variety and extent to which lasers are used in contemporary dental practices.
“There are four to five lasers with different wavelengths that are a major asset in a dental practice,” explains Sarasota cosmetic dentist Christine Koval. The variations in wavelengths and frequencies allow for a range of laser applications. Some wavelengths cut soft tissue, allowing for surgical procedures without using a traditional blade. Other wavelengths can cut enamel—imagine getting a filling without the drill! There’s even a laser that can detect decay and determine how deep the decay is.
Then there’s the Waterlase, “a fabulous laser,” says Koval, which activates molecules of water, which then do the actual cutting. As another alternative to drilling, the Waterlase works without heat or vibration. The result is a very “cool” procedure with virtually no pain afterwards, says Koval.
Call it “the 21st-century tooth fairy.” Store-A-Tooth, a new service from Massachusetts-based Provia Laboratories, offers a chance to ship away certain dental specimens—baby teeth, wisdom teeth and other otherwise healthy teeth that have been surgically extracted—to a laboratory to be indefinitely preserved.
But aside from sentiment, why would you want to save your teeth? Two words: stem cells.
In fact, Store-A-Tooth scientists don’t save the tooth itself; they extract tissue containing stem cells, then freeze and store the cells “until the day you may need them.” In the near future, dental stem cells will be used to regenerate broken teeth or treat periodontal disease. And scientists are already studying ways dental stem cells might be used to treat diabetes, muscular dystrophy, heart attack, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and many other conditions.
For more information, visit store-a-tooth.com; locally, contact Dr. Elizabeth Perez, D.M.D., drelizabethperez.com.
“Once the [dental] temporaries are placed on your teeth, you need to be 100 percent satisfied. Be concerned if you’re told, ‘Don’t worry, these are only the temporaries. The final ones will be perfect.’”
—Dr. Christine Koval
Adults with Periodontal Disease
Ages 20 to 64: 8.52 percent
65 and over: 17.2 percent
23 percent of seniors age 65 and older have not been to the dentist in the last five years.
Source: NIDCR, NIH health report