When people snore, they may also suffer from acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when the valve in the stomach opens abnormally. Problems with the foods we eat, our swallowing pattern, and airway function may result in the stomach allowing contents into the esophagus, and then into the oral cavity. As a result, the acid weakens our tooth structure and leads to a higher risk of cavities, tooth breaks, periodontal disease, and even cancer. Most people do not know they are suffering from acid reflux and believe that their cavities are a result of or poor hygiene when in fact it is related to a combination of separate variables.
In combination with an acidic diet, snoring while sleeping is a significant contributing factor to acid reflux. When snoring occurs, air passes through the mouth instead of the nose. This air passage aggravates the opening of the airway and can result in cessation of breathing for seconds at a time. This results in a person suddenly gasping for air in their sleep. The major changes in air pressure during these apnea episodes as well as impairment of the esophagus while sleeping encourages acid reflux to occur.
When prolonged acid reflux is occurring, the acid slowly eats away at our teeth. We usually see signs of acid reflux starting on the back molars as these are the teeth that come into contact with the acid first. A tooth that is eroded from acid appears translucent and a yellow color. This is due to acid melting away the outermost layer of a tooth, the enamel. This leaves the inner yellow layer, or dentin, visible. When teeth are weakened by acid in this manner, large fractures that need expensive restorative treatment are more likely to occur.
When signs of acid erosion are present, it is important to identify what is causing it. Having a sleep study is ideal to identify apnea events. Controlling the potential apnea with a sleep appliance and/or CPAP machine is crucial to correct the airway function at rest. Controlling what we ingest is also needed to regulate a healthy pH in our stomach and avoid disrupting it. Eating too close to the time we are about to go to sleep is also important to avoid because undigested food is more likely to move back into the esophagus, especially when we are lying down.