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  • Writer's pictureDr Gautam Herle

A Dentist's guide to great sleep

There are plenty of things that can negatively impact our sleep, and one of them you might be surprised to learn is your teeth! We’ve brought in Dr Gautam Herle to educate us all about the links between sleep and teeth and gums - and you might learn why you’ve been struggling with your sleep! 

People don’t often make the link between a good night’s sleep and a healthy set of teeth and gums. That is, until night grinding makes an impact on your life, or you have a toothache that’s keeping you awake at 4.00am. Or, you have found yourself undergoing the frustration that comes from your partner snoring in a way that you’d be convinced could wake the dead.

Snoring and sleep apnoea can have a significant bearing on your life in multiple ways. The noise is one thing, sure, but there can be other, more significant impacts on your health. As characterised by pauses in your breathing as you sleep, sleep apnoea manifests itself as each pause lasting for anywhere from a few seconds to multiple minutes. This happens quite frequently through the night. The snoring sound is most commonly heard, but as the brain reacts to a lack of oxygen, it acts to rouse the body by bringing about what sound like snorting or choking sounds. 

You may not recall the interrupted sleep patterns, but they’re there – and unless they’re equipped with earplugs, whoever is within a reasonable distance will notice it as well. The inevitable result will be tiredness and fatigue for both you and your partner.

The science of Sleep Apnoea

Snoring and sleep apnoea is caused by the airways being fully or partially obstructed. Your breathing at night (at any time, for that matter) should be easy and silent. This is only possible when you have open and clear airways. Any obstructions, or reductions in space means there is a subsequent reduction in air getting to your lungs – the result of which is a strain on your lungs, your heart … your whole body, to be blunt. 

Possible remedies

With a trained and qualified dentist, you can get the kind of help necessary to remedy this snoring and sleep apnoea issue. 

After reviewing your condition and having examined your mouth, teeth, tongue, jaw, and gums, it’s likely that your dentist may refer you to a sleep physician who will conduct a sleep study. After the proper treatment is determined, you’ll likely be on the receiving end of either Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), or a Mandibular Advancement Splint (MAS). 

CPAPs are a type of therapy which uses an air pump and mask to deliver mild air pressure to your upper airway to keep it open so you can breathe normally while you sleep. The CPAP pump takes in air, pressurises it, and then sends the pressurised air through a tube and mask to deliver it via the nose and mouth into the throat. The pressurised air prevents the upper airway from collapsing, allowing the person to breathe normally.

A ‘MAS’ consists of upper and lower linking plates or mouthguards to be worn as you sleep. It adjusts the angle and position of your lower jaw, so that your airway is opened as you sleep. Some people may initially experience aching jaw muscles and teeth, although this usually disappears in a few days. Splints are easy to maintain, as they can be cleaned with a toothbrush and toothpaste, and most of them can be used for anywhere up to five years. MAS can even be used by people with no teeth.  Then what?

For a CPAP, it may take a while for you to adjust to sleeping with such a device on your face, or in the case of the MAS, in your mouth. By checking in regularly with your dentist, you can find out if whichever device you’ve gone with is working correctly, bringing about a better quality and depth of nightly sleep. 

A night’s sleep uninterrupted by sporadic breathing stoppages, snoring and snorting is going to be good for your overall health, but even better for the mental wellbeing of anyone trying to sleep in the same bed. 

About the Author

Dr Gautam Herle is the principal dentist at Myers Street Dental Clinic in Geelong, Victoria. Dr Herle loves it when patients understand what is happening in their mouth, knowing and understanding the difference it could make in one’s life. Planning complex work, root canal treatment, crown and bridge work and working under a dental microscope are the areas of work where he is most relaxed.  Dr Herle is on the cutting edge of technology, and will soon be only one of 12 dentists in Australia to have achieved a Masters in Laser Dentistry.

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