In holistic dentistry, we understand that health is the result of a complex web of factors, some of which come from within the body, and some of which come from without. This is true of oral health, where things like your oral microbiome might be impacted by pesticides. But it’s also true of health conditions like sleep apnea, which might be impacted by a number of factors in your environment. Some of these factors might be seasonal, while others might be chronic. Some of them come from within your home, but many of them can come from outside the home, such as ambient air pollution. It turns out that this can actually be a major factor in your risk of developing sleep apnea, according to a new study. Since sleep apnea can have serious health consequences, this can be a major factor in your oral and overall health.

Sitting in traffice with smog coming from cars. Is your daily commute causing you sleep apnea?

Looking at Air Quality

For this study, researchers looked at nearly 2000 participants in MESA (Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis). To qualify for the study, researchers needed to participate in the Sleep and air studies, both subparts of the overall MESA study.

For these patients, researchers compared the average yearly and 5-year cumulative exposure levels to the results of in-home full polysomnography. Polysomnography measures many aspects of your sleep, and is considered the only true way to diagnose sleep apnea (though there are many other screening tools).

According to the results, researchers were able to show that exposure to a 10 ppb (parts per billion) increase in annual NO2 levels was associated with a 39% higher risk of sleep apnea. In addition, a 5 μgm/m3 increase in particulate pollution less than 2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5) linked to a 60% higher risk of sleep apnea. For reference, the average level of PM2.5 in Rochester is about 7 so we’d expect to see some impact from this variable. However, the average annual NO2 concentration dropped below 10 ppb in 2016 (the latest data available), which is doing good for our lungs and our sleep. In both categories, we have benefitted from long-term trends in air pollution reduction.

Local Air Quality Can Vary

Of course, this study is focused primarily on the averages over the year and our data is from one reporting station. It may not reflect your personal situation. For example, living near a busy road is increased with a significantly increased risk of snoring and daytime sleepiness (a common symptom of sleep apnea). In fact, the risk increase for snoring was found to be about the same as smoking 10 cigarettes a day (half a pack).

Neither of these studies has looked at indoor air pollution, which can also contribute to sleep breathing problems, although evidence is limited.

What Can You Do?

If you experience breathing problems during sleep, you can try to correct your indoor air pollution. This includes trying to avoid burning wood, candles, and incense in the home, or regularly venting the air to the outside. We don’t have evidence about the impact of volatile cleaners on sleep disordered breathing, but if they irritate your throat, nose, or other mucus membranes, they can contribute to inflammation that increases snoring and sleep apnea.

Reducing outdoor air pollution exposure is harder. If you do live near a high traffic area, keep your windows closed when traffic is high. If you experience major problems, recognize that the traffic may be a problem, and moving should be considered.

It’s also important to treat sleep apnea or snoring to help protect your health. Some people may find that the recommended treatment, CPAP, is hard for them to use. Instead, an oral appliance can be a comfortable, convenient alternative.

If you would like to learn more about the benefits of oral appliance therapy for sleep apnea, please call (585) 244-3337 today for an appointment with a sleep dentist at Contemporary Dentistry in Rochester, NY.