How Men's Dental Health Is Linked to Snoring

There’s a type of patient dentist's see all of the time. They walk into the office, and they’re well overdue for their check-up. They’re afraid to be there actually, but they’ll usually try and hide it. If they need anything done, they grip the arms of the dental chair with an almighty force.

Why did they come in the first place? Oftentimes, it is because they were convinced—even forced—to come by a loved one. In many such cases, there is concern that snoring may be harming this person's health. The type of patient we're describing to you is typically middle-aged to elderly males.

Males often present to their dental checkup in this very stereotypical fashion. Statistics show they don’t attend as often as female counterparts. The problem with this is that many typical male health problems can be detected with a simple dental exam. Snoring, for example, has very clear links to dental health, and may be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea.

Dental exams provide valuable early signs of sleep apnea, which can itself be a sign of serious health conditions. These conditions include heart attack, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.

Male deaths from these diseases are higher than females, often miss the vital early signs by avoiding the doctor. Regular dental check-ups are an integral part of early detection of these life-threatening conditions. Let’s take a look at how men’s dental health can reveal a snoring and sleep disorder.

Man sleeping in his bed and snoring loudly
tommaso79 / istockphoto

Snoring, Sleep Health, and Teeth

You may not think of it right away, but teeth and dental health tell a lot about how well you’re sleeping. Men who snore are at a higher risk of obstructive sleep apnea. It’s a condition that affects a much larger proportion of men compared to females.

Snoring is a noise caused by the relaxation of the mouth and throat muscles during sleep. The relaxed airway causes vibration of the throat and neck. If the deeper muscles that hold the throat aren’t switched on during sleep then the tongue can fall back into the airway. Snoring may be a sign of a blocked airway during sleep—although it’s not always the case.

We often think it’s normal for middle-aged men to snore. However, for their partners, it can be a real problem. Many men who attend a sleep health check are often sent by their partners who are simply fed up with the noise.

Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. These are called apneas and can last from 10 to 20 seconds. A sleep test (called a polysomnograph) assesses how many of these apneas are occurring throughout the night. Once it reaches a certain number, the diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea can be made.

It’s a serious health issue because your body depends on oxygen during sleep just as it does while awake. When you enter deeper stages of sleep, the body performs much-needed spring cleaning on areas like your brain. It involves a flow of cerebral spinal fluid that removes metabolites and toxins from the brain. If you snore or have periods of oxygen deprival during sleep, it can cause serious damage to your neurons.

Snoring and pausing in breathing can reduce oxygen flow to brain tissue during this period. It can also alter the blood-brain barrier that prevents the flow of cleansing. In turn, poor breathing during sleep also means that the rest of the body isn't receiving enough oxygen either. The early signs of this may be behavioral and memory problems, brain fog, irritability, and general lack of concentration.

The Signs of Snoring Your Dentist May Find

A sleep test is required to determine whether your snoring is causing obstructive sleep apnea. However, many signs can be picked up by a simple dental examination.

There are a number of risk factors associated with OSA. These include:

  • Obesity
  • Daytime tiredness
  • Poor short term memory

If you are aware of any of these signs alongside snoring, you should get an assessment for sleep apnea. However other dental signs also provide further information on the risk of snoring and sleep apnea. Some signs dentists check for include a large tongue, retrusive jaw, or enlarged tonsils. If your dentist suspects sleep apnea they will refer you to a sleep specialist for a sleep test.

How to Treat Snoring and Sleep Apnea

One treatment for sleep apnea is a CPAP machine that uses positive pressure to deliver oxygen during sleep.

Another treatment is a mandibular advancement splint (MAS). This is a night time guard that is made by your dentist. A MAS is an upper and lower splint that helps to hold your jaw forward when you sleep at night. Depending on the cause of your sleep apnea, this may help to prevent the tongue from falling back into the airway at night.

The tongue is also key for nighttime breathing. Tongue exercises can strengthen the muscles that support the airways at night. It sits like a sling between your jawbones and connects to the base of the skull and holds the throat open. These are called myofunctional exercises that help to train the tongue to keep the airways open during sleep.

Early Detection Is Key

Your dental exam will often reveal if you're snoring or not. This can progress into serious conditions if left untreated. Men have been poorer dental attendees than females. It’s time that we realize that missing a dental check may miss serious health conditions that can first be identified in the mouth.

Like all dental and other health conditions, early detection may prevent complications. Men’s dental health can be a cardinal sign of other disease processes in the body. One lesser-acknowledged link is what teeth tell us about sleep health.

Make sure to book and attend your dental appointment. Or, if your partner snores, you may need to book the appointment for them. If you snore, be sure to tell your dentist.

14 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Steven Lin, DDS
Steven Lin, DDS, is a dentist, TEDx speaker, health educator, and author.