Gum Troubles and Sleep Apnea: Long-Term Consequences of a Misaligned Bite

Updated on June 20, 2020

The last time you heard someone snoring, you probably didn’t think about their jaw alignment. But look into the side effects of underbites and overbites, and you’ll see snoring at the top of the list.

Snoring is just one chronic health problem associated with a misaligned bite. Gum disease, breathing issues and sleep apnea can also result from untreated malocclusions. Think you might fall into one of these categories? Read on to learn just how much your bite influences your overall health. It might be more than you think.

How Bite Misalignment Impacts Health

Underbites and Overbites are common malocclusions that can impact people of any age. Unfortunately, many people who experience these conditions are also faced with additional health problems. For example, chewing might be difficult for people who don’t have a proper bite. Moreover, these people are also at higher risk for choking, since their food may not be chewed properly before swallowing. 

Similarly, underbites and overbites can contribute to accelerated wear and tear of tooth enamel. When a person doesn’t bite down normally, their enamel wears faster than normal. In turn, these people are placed at a higher risk for tooth decay. Underbites might also have an impact on oral hygiene, which can cause a host of additional issues.

“If your overbite makes it difficult to properly clean your teeth and gums, then this could also lead to tooth decay, gum disease and even tooth loss when not treated properly,” says Dr. Charles Gemmi at Orthodontics Limited.

Gum disease is one of the most damaging side effects of excessive wear that can be caused by poor bite alignment. Gum disease can progress from a case of gingivitis, inflammation of the gums, to periodontitis, when the gums pull away from the teeth. When people are faced with gum disease, the whole body can be affected. 

“The mouth is intimately connected to many other parts of the body and a bacterial imbalance or gum disease in the mouth can create immune problems and inflammation in other parts of the body as well,” Katie Wells at Wellness Mama explains.

Cancers, heart disease, stroke and pregnancy complications are just a few ailments that have been correlated with untreated gum disease. 

Gum recession can also occur as a side effect of underbites and overbites. This is primarily because the teeth make contact with the gumline in a more severe malocclusion. As a result, gum recession and damage can occur. Receding gums can change the appearance of a person’s smile and cause pain, bleeding, and difficulties brushing and chewing.

Overbites, Underbites and Breathing Troubles

Aside from the cosmetic and interpersonal issues raised, tooth decay contributes to issues that extend beyond the mouth. For example, misaligned bites can result in breathing troubles like chronic bad breath, sleep apnea and snoring.

Mouth breathing can also occur in people with underbites and overbites. While mouth breathing may not seem problematic, it can contribute to a host of long-term health problems. Nasal breathing is essential for longevity and optimum health

“Unobstructed nasal breathing is the number-one key to a person’s quality of life. Human beings are naturally nasal breathers.”

But why exactly is nasal breathing so important? And why is mouth breathing so dangerous? Breathing through the mouth instead of the nose restrict the nasal and sinus mucous membranes from making a gas called nitric oxide. Nitrous oxide is what helps our bodies absorb the oxygen we breathe in every day. It also plays an important role in warding off infection.

“Our systems produce this gas in small amounts, but these small amounts can increase our lungs’ capacity to absorb oxygen (by anywhere between 10-25%) when we inhale them. In addition, nitric oxide keeps us healthy by killing bacteria, viruses, and other germs.”

People who mouth breathe don’t promote as much nitric oxide production, making the body more prone to serious health problems. Even people who make an effort to breathe through their noses during the day may breathe primarily through their mouths during sleep, without their knowledge.

Sleep Apnea and Other Nighttime Breathing Issues

Excessively loud snoring is another common side effect of overbites, explains bite correction dentist Dr. Sam Muslin. “An excessive overbite in which the upper teeth cover the lower teeth by more than 50-percent has the potential to cause severe snoring.”

Morris adds that, in addition to snoring, overbites and their associated obstructions can lead to sleep apnea. Since people might not realize they snore unless told by a partner or family member, however, this serious condition can go untreated for years.

Sleep apnea is one of the most dangerous side effects of bite misalignment. Sleep apnea is essentially disrupted breathing that occurs either during sleep or when lying on one’s back.

Sleep apnea is “caused when the recessed position of jaw allows the tongue to slip back toward the airway.” When the tongue gets caught in the airway during sleep, people can experience abnormally long and intermittent pauses in breathing. 

A breathing pause is characterized as apnea (meaning “without breath”) when it lasts at least 10 seconds or longer. People with overbites are more likely to experience sleep apnea than people with no bite malocclusions. Specifically, a narrow upper jaw can constrict the nasal airway, making it more difficult for air to reach the lungs. A narrow upper jaw also causes the lower jaw to be recessed, forcing the tongue to rest near the back of the throat, where it can cause obstruction.

An obstructed airway can cause a person to wake up gasping and choking for air. This causes a person to experience interrupted sleep that isn’t restful, which can lead to a host of other problems. Issues associated with sleep apnea include excessive daytime fatigue, morning headaches, high blood pressure and mood changes.

Sleep apnea is also related to teeth grinding, which is referred to as bruxism. Dr. Muslin points to a study that scanned sleeping people with a history of partial airway blockages. In many of these patients, who were known to experience sleep apnea, grinding was associated with reduced airways.

In other words, grinding plays a role in helping people start breathing again after a long pause. Sleep apnea and grinding can both be detrimental to the long-term health of the mind and body. 

Bite Correction As a First Step Toward Improved Overall Health

Understanding how your bite plays a role in these health conditions can ensure you get the right treatment as soon as possible. If you’re in this position, there’s good news: Correcting an overbite or underbite is known to greatly improve, and often eliminate, issues with breathing and sleeping.

Dr. Muslin uses the example on of one former patient who was struggling with a bad bite and TMJ pain. Such issues can cause a person’s jaw to interfere their airway, leading to mouth breathing and insufficient tongue space. In turn, these patients can experience breathing obstructions and sleep apnea. 

By moving the jaw, muscles and neck to a better position, a person’s airway can be released from obstruction so that they no longer struggle with dangerous breathing issues.

Images by: Roman Samborskyi/©, Stefano Garau/©, Aleksandr Davydov/©

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