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Good oral health helps you sleep soundly

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Your sleep quality depends on the health of your pearly whites (Photo by Playground.ai)

By: Assoc. Prof. Dr Azwatee Abdul Aziz

The World Sleep Day is observed annually on 15 March; and this year the theme is ‘Sleep Equity for Global Health’. Created and hosted by the World Sleep Society, World Sleep Day is an internationally recognized event that builds connections and raises sleep health awareness among researchers, health care workers, patients, and the public. Participants from each of these stakeholder groups organize sleep health awareness activities in their local clinics, institutions, companies, and communities, promoting the importance of good sleeping habits.

Assoc. Prof. Dr Azwatee Abdul Aziz

As a dental specialist, I believe it is crucial to recognize the often-overlooked role that oral health plays in achieving restful nights. The relationship between the two may seem unconventional to most of us, but recent research suggests that a healthy smile may be the key to unlocking the secrets of a good night’s rest.

Let me explain.

Dentistry, traditionally associated with routine cleanings and cavity fillings, is evolving to cover a broader perspective on overall health. It is now understood that untreated dental issues can contribute to common sleep disruptions such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and nocturnal teeth grinding (also known as bruxism).

OSA often manifests with symptoms such as snoring, disrupted sleep patterns, and excessive daytime sleepiness. The prevalence of OSA is notably higher in individuals with certain risk factors, including obesity, advanced age, and anatomical variations in the oral and pharyngeal structures. To date, dentists are increasingly involved in the diagnosis and management of sleep apnea, recognizing the role that issues such as tongue and jaw positioning can play in obstructing the airway.

Bruxism, on the other hand, is another common issue that can wreak havoc on both dental health and sleep quality. The wearing down of teeth due to grinding not only leads to dental problems but can also contribute to headaches, joint pain, and disrupted sleep patterns.

Oral health professionals, equipped with this epidemiological insight, could then play a vital role in recognizing the signs and symptoms of sleep-related issues during routine dental examinations.

In conjunction with the World Sleep Day, it becomes imperative therefore to empower individuals with the knowledge that their dental health is a crucial component of their overall well-being. Educating patients about the correlation between dental health and sleep quality encourages them to view their dental check-ups not just as routine appointments but as integral to their holistic health. Some examples of preventive measures and lifestyle changes that can be done include:

1. Use of Oral Appliances: Devices such as mandibular advancement devices, has gained prominence as a non-invasive and effective intervention for mild to moderate OSA.

2. Oral Hygiene Habits: Emphasizing the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene habits, including regular brushing and flossing, can contribute not only to dental health but also to overall well-being, including sleep quality.

3. Dietary Considerations: Avoiding acidic foods and drinks, especially close to bedtime, can minimize the risk of acid erosion on teeth, addressing one of the contributors to both dental issues and disrupted sleep.

4. Night Guards for Bruxism: For individuals experiencing bruxism, the use of night guards can protect teeth from excessive grinding, mitigating the impact on dental health and promoting more restful sleep.

Regular dental check-ups are emerging as a frontline defence against potential sleep disruptors. Dentists, equipped with the knowledge and tools to identify early signs of sleep-related issues, can collaborate with sleep specialists to provide comprehensive care for their patients. By addressing the root causes of sleep disturbances – often starting with the health of one’s teeth – individuals can take proactive steps towards achieving better sleep.

The combination of World Sleep Day and dental awareness calls for a collaborative approach within the healthcare community. Dentists, sleep specialists, and other healthcare professionals must work together to promote a comprehensive understanding of the interconnected aspects of oral and sleep health.

Your sleep quality depends on the health of your pearly whites. Please remember that.

The author is an Associate Professor at the Department of Restorative Dentistry, Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at azwatee@um.edu.my

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