Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Greater Boston - Rhode Island

Oxygen Absorption While Sleeping: Oral Sleep Appliances Assist with Proper Levels

Sleeping is one of the most vital building blocks of maintaining one’s health. Proper sleep involves breathing air through the nose where it is filtered, moving through the trachea and into the lungs where the purified oxygen is absorbed into the bloodstream. Maintaining an oxygen level between 90 and 100 percent is essential to keep muscles and organs thriving. 

Unfortunately, 50 percent of Americans suffer from some form of sleep-disordered breathing, which creates a disturbance in the proper absorption of oxygen while sleeping. In some instances, these disturbances can be characterized into a condition called sleep apnea. Sleep apnea involves a complete blockage in the airway that can last up to a staggering 20 seconds until a person wakes up gasping for air. These apneic episodes can occur up to 100 times per hour in severe cases. As a result, the needed amount of oxygen is certainly not absorbed. Left untreated, these disorders can result in unwanted health conditions related to blood pressure, digestion and mental disturbances. Fortunately, there is treatment available for diagnosed sleep disorders.

Often, sleep apnea is accompanied by pain in the temporomandibular joint, or the TMJ. The TMJ is the joint area found on either side of the head where the lower jaw connects to the skull. TMJ discomfort, or TMJ disorders, will often involve occurrences of grinding or clenching the teeth. If sleep apnea is occurring, the brain will register an insufficient amount of oxygen absorption and will solicit the mouth to open to find another air passage. While this response occurs, the lower jaw will move forward to open the airway. This movement will manifest into grinding the teeth, also known as bruxism. This excess pressure put on the teeth and movement of the lower jaw can result in disturbances to the TMJ function as well as discomfort in the associated area.

If there is a suspected TMJ or sleep disorder, there are symptoms to watch out for. This includes a popping or crunching sound while opening and closing the mouth. This sound is due to improper placement and function of the TMJ, resulting in bone-on-bone friction. Other symptoms to be mindful of include day-time drowsiness, headaches, soreness in the back and neck, ear discomfort, jaw and tooth discomfort. Young children may also exhibit symptoms such as slow learning, difficulty concentrating, irritability, hyper personality and bed wetting. During a check-up at the dentist, the hygienist or doctor may help with the diagnosis of a suspected sleep disorder by inspecting any present wear facets on the teeth.

Prior to treating sleep apnea, it is important to correctly diagnose it. To do this, a sleep study is indicated for practitioners to observe a patient while sleeping to examine the number and duration of apnea occurrences. Once validating sleep apnea is occurring, custom-fitted appliance therapy can be provided to treat the disorder. An oral appliance is a small acrylic device that fits over the upper and lower teeth. The purpose of an oral appliance is to advance the lower jaw forward, placing the TMJ in the correct position as well as opening the airway. By wearing this specialized appliance, the correct function of the airway will be restored along with the needed levels of oxygen absorption.

Many medical insurance companies will cover a large portion of the cost of the appliance if there is a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea that will cause harmful consequences left untreated. Getting tested for a suspected sleep disorder is a recommendation that should not be taken lightly. If a dentist or primary care physician suspects sleep quality that is not at its fullest potential, following through with their recommendations is vital. You may be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea when there is treatment available to drastically improve your quality of life.

Dr. Amparo M. David, DMD, has her own practice, Dentistry by Dr. David, located at 563 Main St., Bolton, MA, where she practices general and cosmetic dentistry and orthodontics. She also has completed a residency in dental sleep medicine and sleep apnea and is able to assist her patients with this common problem. For more information, call 978-779-2888 or visit