Sleep Apnea and Tooth Extraction: The Root of the Problem

R. Kirk Huntsman

Following a tooth extraction or root canal, so long as the dental professional performing the procedure has done the job correctly, patients typically experience pain that can be managed with standard painkillers. However, in rare cases, there have been recordings of people experiencing sleep disorders and general sleeping complications following a dental extraction.

To begin, it’s important to know exactly why tooth extractions are performed. Depending on just how crooked an individual’s teeth are, either braces or extractions are necessary for straightening. However, if someone has a decaying, damaged, or infected tooth, that calls for an immediate extraction, so long as the damage is extensive enough to bar repair.

The argument afterwards then becomes whether or not this standard procedure is capable of disrupting one’s sleep. To many people, it may seem unlikely that oral health and sleeping patterns are so closely connected. But, the two are very much related. Extractions specifically, on the other hand, are widely debated as to whether or not they are contributors to sleep disorders.

According to SleepApnea.org, roughly 80% of Americans suffering from sleep apnea are undiagnosed. This poses a problem for professionals wishing to study this specific case, as the results may be heavily skewed one way or the other. For now, researchers must pay attention to why the subject has even been brought to light.

Following a tooth extraction, it is possible for an individual to experience a decreased size in airways; something that is known to worsen sleep apnea. A study conducted in 2016 found that adults between the ages of 25 and 65 had an increased chance of developing obstructive sleep apnea by 2% with every tooth lost. Though a small, find this is another possible factor for the development of sleep apnea post extraction.

A common symptom experienced after having wisdom teeth removed is looser facial muscles. Patients may experience an increase in drooling throughout the night because of this, and, when lying on one’s back, sleep apnea. With the relaxed muscles pushing the tongue further back into the throat, the partially blocked airways can cause snoring, and constant periods of stopped breathing altogether.

While any study has yet to yield concrete evidence that tooth extraction does indeed cause sleep apnea, there are numerous findings that suggest this. Many dentists may agree that the fewer extractions an individual endures, the better. Again, this is not to say that the more teeth removed one has, the higher chances they have of sleep apnea, but the subtle clues pointing toward this do suggest that it is a possibility. For now, anyone suffering from this sleep disorder should work closely with their doctor, sleep specialist, or dentist for insight as to why they may have developed it.