We know that sleep apnea increases your risk of many systemic conditions, especially cardiovascular risks. We also know that gum disease can increase many systemic risks as well, including heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
It also seems that sleep apnea may increase gum disease risks, which could mean that the condition has even more serious implications for your health.
How Common Is Gum Disease in Sleep Apnea Sufferers?
A recent study from Korea looked at the potential link between sleep apnea and gum disease. They gave 687 participants (67% men) a polysomnography to measure the extent of sleep apnea the person had, periodontal exams, and general health screenings.
The study defined periodontal disease as being clinical attachment loss (receding gums) of 6 mm (¼ inch) or more and a probing depth of about 4 mm. This corresponds to a moderate to severe level of gum disease. According to this definition, about 18% of the study population had gum disease. For comparison, the estimated rate of moderate or severe gum disease is about 38% in the US.
In the study, about 46.6% of the participants had obstructive sleep apnea, which they defined as being an apnea-hypopnea index (AHI, the number of times a person’s breathing stops in an hour) of five or more, which is mild sleep apnea. Of those with gum disease, 60% had sleep apnea.
Statistical analysis confirmed that sleep apnea was associated with gum disease, essentially doubling the risk. They also found that the more severe the sleep apnea, the more severe the gum disease: pocket depth and gum attachment were both proportional to AHI.
What’s the Link?
It seems, based on the strong correlation, that it’s likely sleep apnea and gum disease have a causal link, but the study doesn’t explain what that is. One possible link is the simple one that sleep apnea encourages a person to sleep with their mouth open. This causes the mouth to dry out, leading to an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive, allowing them to colonize the gum tissue.
Another possibility is that sleep apnea’s systemic effects, which include fatigue, impaired immune system function, and more, can make it harder for the body to fight off gum disease.
It’s worth noting that there are many potential confounding variables, such as smoking, mouth breathing, age, and weight. Although researchers corrected for them, it’s possible these have a more significant effect than was accounted for.
What we do know, though, is that both these conditions are bad for your heart and need to be treated. If you are suffering from sleep apnea or gum disease, we can help. Please call (610) 272-0828 for an appointment with a Philadelphia sleep dentist at Dental Excellence of Blue Bell.