Tom’s Airway Story: Teeth Grinding, Dark Circles and Daytime Fatigue
April 2018 – It was just the luck of the draw that my dentist, whom I’ve been seeing for two years, happens to be an airway dentist too, meaning he has made a pledge to make sure nothing he does will compromise the breathing pathways of his patients and to optimize the airway while treating.
I was losing sleep and waking myself up from grinding my teeth. I could understand teeth grinding as stress-related, but I had no idea how it related to my breathing. Sometimes, I’d grind during the day too; and I needed to nap often. I did not, however, make connections between the grinding and the need for napping.
It seemed logical to me to ask to be fitted for a night-time appliance to protect my teeth from the grinding that seemed to be beyond my conscious mind to correct. Fortunately, my dentist saw what was happening and did make me the appliance, but it was for another reason. It was because underlying the tension in my jaw was a problem with obstructed breathing. I have a tendency to get congested too, particularly when I get a respiratory infection, and that made everything worse.
The treatment was not what I expected. For one thing, step 1 was taping my mouth closed at night so that I would be forced to breathe through my nose. The taping trains you for a new and necessary habit because there is a long list of bad things that can happen to people who breathe through their mouths. To name a few: ADD, gum infections, crooked teeth, and over time heart problems and high blood pressure. Only after I did that for a few weeks did I
start wearing the MyTap, which positions my jaw while I’m sleeping to maximize the flow of air. Then a couple months later I started myofunctional therapy which involves exercises to strengthen and create new muscle memory in my lips, tongue, and posture.
To complete the treatment, I am considering a simple “tongue release surgery,” also known as a frenectomy. This is recommended when the tissue that anchors your tongue to the floor of your mouth is too restrictive. Having a “tongue tie” or “tethered tongue” can have all kinds of bad consequences you’d never think of, like my problems with daytime fatigue.
Even before I do this last step, I have to say I’m already so much better. I don’t need to nap during the day. I’m much better rested. Other improvements happened that I had no idea were related to how I breathed at night. The dark circles under my eyes went away, and I have more energy.
Having energy is really important, especially with two young kids!
I have been asked to share my story because airway health is so poorly understood. People are getting diagnosed all the time with things like TMJ, chronic fatigue, and teeth grinding. We aren’t leaping to the assumption that how we breathe is at the root of our suffering.
And yet it is. I hope in writing my story for the Foundation for Airway Health, doctors, dentists and people like me will think about the root cause of their problems. I was one of the lucky ones whose dentist just happened to be informed about airway health.