How Sleep Apnea is Tied to Dentistry

Sleep apnea is an under-diagnosed medical condition that can be severe, even life-threatening, which an estimated 20 million Americans suffer with. The disorder forces the sleeper awake dozens of times during the night due to the interruption of normal breathing patterns, leading to a dangerous decrease in the blood’s oxygen levels. Although the condition can be dangerous and is not widely understood by the general public, a fairly recent line of defense in the fight against sleep apnea can now be found in the nation’s dental offices.

Your Dentist and the Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea

The most common symptoms of sleep apnea are loud snoring, restless sleep, waking many times during the night, daytime fatigue and problems with concentration and memory – not the kind of difficulties that a person would rush to their doctor with. It’s easy to think a poor night’s sleep is due to stress, an old bed or noises during the night, but if interrupted sleep becomes chronic your professional and social life will suffer, and you are at a higher than normal risk for all sorts of medical problems due to sleep deprivation and poor blood circulation.

A Visit to the Dentist’s Office May Uncover Problems with Sleep

The direct causes of sleep apnea lie in the area of the nose, throat and mouth, where obstructions to normal breathing can occur. Your dentist is the medical professional in your life who will most likely see any signs of problems first. For more than 10 years now dental professionals have been trained to look for signs of possible Sleep Apnea Syndrome (SAS). Difficulty with nasal breathing, swollen tissues in the throat, abnormally large tonsils, position of tongue and set of the jaw can all tell your dentist that there may be a problem with your sleep patterns. Even gum disease – gingivitis and periodontitis – can be an obvious, and hopefully temporary, cause of sleep apnea.

Your dentist is trained to ask the right kinds of questions, and if sleep apnea is suspected a referral to a sleep medicine specialist may be appropriate. A specialist will be able to determine the severity of the problem and recommend the proper line of treatment – anything from lifestyle changes to oral or nasal surgery.

Taking Steps Toward a Healthier Night’s Sleep

The first course of treatment is avoiding conditions that can cause difficulties with breathing during sleep:

  • Obesity can cause breathing problems due to a thickening of the neck pressing on the throat.
  • Alcohol and sedatives relax the breathing muscles that need to stay alert during sleep.
  • Smoking tends to cause swelling and obstruction of the airway.
  • Changing sleeping position may be an easy remedy: try sleeping on your side or with a slightly elevated torso and head.

Using an Oral Appliance is as Simple as Wearing a Retainer

In Wisconsin, an oral device can not be fabricated without the patient seeing a sleep specialist, and having a sleep study done. Do not be persuaded by flashy internet ads. The best place for proper diagnosis and treatment planning will begin with the sleep specialist. Your Dental Health Associates dentist will be happy to answer any questions you may have about sleep apnea. Sweet dreams!

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