Tooth Decay and Snoring – What’s the Link?
Did you know that people who snore or suffer from sleep apnoea have an increased risk of developing tooth decay? A comparison of acidity levels in the mouths of individuals who did and did not breathe through their mouth during sleep found that mouth breathing can promote decay. This was revealed in a 2016 study by dentistry researchers from the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand*.
The researchers, who published their findings in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation, found that an increasing number of dental patients suffering from dental erosion and decay had previously complained about a dry mouth during sleep or upon awakening.
How Does Dry Mouth Cause Tooth Decay?
Saliva plays an important role as a defence mechanism that prevents the mouth from becoming too acidic. Mouth breathing as a result of snoring can cause saliva to evaporate, upsetting the base pH levels that protect tooth enamel and prevent bacterial activation.
The lack of saliva has two key damaging effects:
- Acidity leads to the loss of tooth enamel through erosion, which is the direct effect of acid without the influence of bacteria.
- The presence of more bacteria, which causes tooth decay by breaking down food particles to produce acid.
During the study, researchers measured the pH and temperature levels in the mouths of 10 healthy volunteers as they slept with and without a nose clip, which forced them to breathe through the mouth. They could then compare the level of acidity in the mouth during open and closed mouth sleep.
Mouth Breathing Causes Higher Levels of Acidity
Volunteers in the study were fitted with a device that constantly measured the temperature and pH levels of the mouth. pH measures acidity using a range from 0 to 14. A measure of 7 is neutral, a measure below is acidic and a measure above is basic or alkaline. Volunteers wore the nose clip for two nights over four days during the study.
While changes in temperature were insignificant, changes in acidity level were a different story. Results showed that the average daytime mouth had a pH of 7.3, while during sleep it was 7. With the nose clip attached, the pH level in the mouth reduced to an average of 6.6, which is considered a significant change when compared to normal sleep conditions. In some participants, it dropped to as low as 3.6, well below the threshold of 5.5 when tooth enamel begins to break down.
The biggest concern is an accumulative effect on individuals’ oral health if they do not seek treatment for snoring or sleep apnoea. These results build upon previous studies by the Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre at Melbourne University in 2015, which found that acidity in sugar-free drinks presented a level of damage comparable to sugar.
Prevent Snoring to Safeguard Oral Health
If you snore or suffer from sleep apnoea, you should consult a sleep disorder clinic to determine whether your mouth breathing is affecting the acidity in your mouth. Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) can affect both your oral health and general health by significantly disrupting your sleep and increasing the risk of tooth decay. Diagnosis and monitoring by a qualified healthcare professional are an important part of the OSA treatment process.
* Choi JE, Waddell JN, Lyons KM & Kieser JA 2016, “Intraoral pH and Temperature During Sleep With and Without Mouth Breathing”, Journal of Oral Rehabilitation, Volume 43, Issue 5, May 2016, pp. 356-363, accessed June 2017 <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26666708>
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