By Hilarie Steele, RDH CEO Operations and Relationships
at Best Natural Smile, Santa Monica, California
BETTER BREATHING MEANS BETTER SLEEP
It’s easy to understand why many of us take breathing for granted; it’s something our bodies do automatically, every day, all day. We may not think about how we breathe, either, but it turns out that proper breathing (every day, all day) could be the key to improving our sleeping, our overall health and our wellbeing.
Changing and improving the way you breathe offers some amazing potential health benefits, including more energy with uninterrupted sleep and lower blood pressure. For those of us who have sleep apnea let’s learn about the journey to better breathing and how your smile is affected.
Mouth Breathing vs. Nose Breathing
As humans, our bodies are inherently built to breathe through our noses; this is how we continue to breathe as we eat or drink with our mouths. About half of us breathe this way, but research shows that the other half are mouth breathers. This could happen for several reasons including seasonal allergies, illness, the physical structure of the nasal passages, or during sleep apnea episodes.
So what’s the big deal about mouth breathing?
Well, for starters, breathing through the nose helps control the temperature of the air entering your lungs. Depending on what your body needs, the nose will regulate that air and make it cooler or warmer – something that your mouth is unable to do. Nasal passages humidify the air, helping you to avoid a dry, sore throat or dry mouth.
Your nose is also host to some small hair-like cilia, which filter out toxins and debris in the air you breathe. Your nose is also host to some small hair-like cilia, which filter out toxins and debris in the air you breathe. These particles then travel to your throat for your body to filter. Unlike mouth breathing, where the particles go straight to your lungs and can damage your body or impact your respiratory health. The only time you need to breathe out of your mouth is when you’re exercising hard or experiencing temporary nasal congestion from illness or allergies.
Did you know that mouth breathing impacts your sleep and your oral health? If chronic mouth breathing isn’t corrected, it can cause long-term and sometimes irreversible damage. Especially if you’re suffering with sleep apnea.
The biggest impacts of mouth breathing are on the quality and health of your sleep. Mouth breathing can be a serious matter and we will get into this later. It also can affect your oral health and cause dry gums that in turn collect bacteria, which results in tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss. In addition, significant wear and tear can occur on the surfaces or your teeth. It can cause your eyes to become droopy, or give you a narrowed upper lip and a forward open bite.
For those who have practiced yoga or Tai ch’i, you already know that breathing is at the center of these movements.
Western civilization has been incorporating breathing strategies for generations and already recognizes them as part of overall health and wellness practices.
The idea is that by maintaining good breath, we maintain good energy throughout our bodies and the required oxygen to make all our systems work the way that they should.
Western cultures are just now beginning to see the connection and learn how to integrate these ancient techniques into traditional medical treatment plans.
Mouth Breathing & Sleep Apnea
Although allergies and illnesses are causes of mouth breathing, sleep apnea tops the list. Research shows that about a quarter of adults aged 30-70 experience obstructive sleep apnea and the number of diagnoses has been growing – and continues to do so among adults.
There are a few types of sleep apnea, but obstructive sleep apnea is the most common and it happens when the muscles in your throat relax too much and you stop breathing normally. A number of muscles play a role in this process, including your soft palate, your tongue, your tonsils, and that dangly uvula at the back of your mouth.
These muscles close your airway and can deprive your brain of oxygen for up to 10 seconds at a time.
When your brain realizes it needs some air, it wakes you up to breathe again, which usually results in a choking sensation and sound. This could happen all night long and prevent you from getting a restful night’s sleep, not to mention the damage being done to your oral health from all of the mouth breathing you’re doing.
While anyone can develop obstructive sleep apnea at any time, the risk increases as we age or if we have a family history. Men are more likely than women to experience symptoms as simple as snoring. Asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure are existing conditions that increase the risk. Obstructive sleep apnea affects many children and is most commonly found in children between 2 and 6 years of age, but can occur at any age.
Because sleep apnea may sound awful like regular snoring, that’s not the only symptom you should be looking for. Because apnea sessions interrupt sleep, you could feel tired during the day and find yourself lacking focus at work or school. (Remember, too, you’re also keeping your partner up with all that noise!)
Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels during episodes can stress the cardiovascular system and stress out your heart, potentially leading to high blood pressure.
It’s worth mentioning again all the havoc that mouth breathing can do to your body, too.
They don’t call it “beauty sleep” for nothing! We should all be focusing on proper sleep health.
If there’s even the slightest suspicion of sleep apnea, an evaluation with our team, in person, is a priority. Each situation is as unique, and if needed we can order a simple sleep test delivered straight to your door and in the comfort of your own home. This test can give us valuable information about the quality of your sleep and rule out the possibility of sleep apnea.
Sleep is important all the way around. You can also consider some lifestyle changes, including regular exercise, using a special pillow, learning and practicing “good” breathing, and avoiding sleeping medication or sedatives.
Is Mouth Breathing Impacting Your Health?
Your oral health says a lot about your overall health and wellbeing, which means your smile care professional will be able to identify issues in your mouth that could be a result of chronic mouth breathing or sleep apnea.
We can spot bruxism, a symptom of sleep apnea, and get a better look at possible tooth decay and gum irritation that happen when we breathe through our mouth instead of our nose.
If you are experiencing sleepless nights, mouth breathing is something we should take a look at.
Ultimately, our philosophy is one of a whole human approach.
Think the cause of your chronic mouth breathing could be sleep apnea? We should chat – maybe it’s time to make an appointment so we can determine if an at home sleep study would be appropriate to figure out the cause.
Did You Know Your Dentist Can Fix Sleep Apnea?
While continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are traditionally prescribed to treat
sleep apnea, special dental appliances are being more commonly used instead for mild to moderate cases of sleep apnea.
The biggest advantage to working with your dentist to treat sleep apnea is that dental appliances are simple, small and much more comfortable than large CPAP machines. The methods we use for treatment require no bulky equipment.
We will go into detail at your appointment about the best appliance to use, but all of them aim to do the same thing: improve airflow and breathing, reduce snoring, and help you get a better night’s sleep.
Working with us means you’ll also get insight into other mouth and jaw problems that could be causing complications with your sleep or general wellbeing. We will adjust your appliances based on the progress you’re making or any kind of discomfort you’re having.
Let’s Ask The Dentist
Dr. Mark Burhenne is a bestselling author in the world of dentistry. As a dentist, His focus is on creating a better pathway for smile care by addressing the root cause of smile breakdown.
He has created AsktheDentist.com and a podcast where his purpose is to empower dental patients with easy to digest, approachable information that allows them to understand the connection between oral health and overall health in such a way that good oral health habits become a part of their everyday lives.
Finding the right advice and navigating the system when it comes to treating sleep apnea can be frustrating. In a recent podcast episode, Dr. B addresses five relevant questions related to sleep apnea. These are questions that he and his wife had and struggled to answer, even as dental professionals, when they found out about their sleep apnea diagnosis.
Your Questions Answered:
In this episode, we hear about some interesting factors to consider when deciding on a device to help with sleep apnea, the efficacy of surgery to treat a tongue tie, and the reliability of at-home testing. Functional dentists are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about sleep apnea, so if you have access to us or one where you live, try to see them because they are more likely to spot the disorder than your physician.
Here’s the link to this insightful Ask The Dentist podcast episode.
Key Points From This Episode
Question 1: What factors should you consider when deciding between an oral appliance and a sleep apnea machine? Two points to consider when deciding on a device and how to ascertain them – nasal breathing and anatomy. Your dentist is the best person to decide which option is best based on these two factors.
Question 2: How effective is surgery in releasing a tongue tie? If your dentist determines that the tongue tie is causing obstructive breathing, it needs to be addressed ASAP. Dr. B adds that functional therapy to strengthen tongue and mouth muscles should happen before and after this particular surgery.
Question 3: How reliable is at-home sleep apnea testing? Dr. B recommends caution when using home testing for sleep apnea, but it should be used more as a tool to adjust your treatment instead of diagnosing sleep apnea as a standalone test. Sleep studies should be controlled in a clinic and attended by medical professionals.
Question 4: Are other gadgets, like chin straps or nostril strips, effective treatments for sleep apnea? Dr. B cautions that these ‘sleep hacks’ usually will not treat sleep apnea alone; ultimately these hacks are better used alongside other dentist-recommended treatment plans. They treat the symptoms but not the root causes of sleep apnea and can be potentially very dangerous.
Question 5: Are there any new developments in the field of sleep apnea research? Your dentist is reading about the same developments and innovations as Dr, B – like the fact that CPAP machines and oral devices are getting smarter, smaller, and cheaper. This means that there’s an option for virtually any patient as long as you address sleep apnea with your dentist and physician.
Have questions about better breathing for sleep apnea?
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll get back to you! We read and reply to every response.
P.S. To book an appointment text or call 310.393.0465 anytime or submit an inquiry below!
A note from Hilarie:
As a dental hygienist and patient advocate located at Best Natural Smile in Santa Monica, California, I am a strong believer that the current dental space experience does not lend itself to achieving smile longevity or give patients the tools and education they need to get there. We are stuck in an ancient system that creates barriers to accessing modern smile care.
I have made it my mission to disrupt the old ways of doing things in the dental space and create a more accessible path to maintaining oral health. I provide complimentary coaching to hundreds of patients. At the end of the day, the story is always the same: patients endlessly asking “How do I stop the breakdown of my smile and who can I trust to keep my smile healthy?”
If you’re interested in learning more or scheduling a complimentary coaching session with me please fill out the form below. From there, my team will reach out to schedule a time for us to chat.
I’m so happy you’re here and can’t wait to see you shine.