Sleep Apnea and Your Dentist

Sleep Apnea and Your DentistAre you struggling with snoring and sleepless nights? Do you wake up with morning headaches and still feel tired throughout the day? If so, you may be experiencing some form of sleep-related breathing disorder. Did you know that many dentists are trained to help treat and manage your snoring or sleep disturbances? Though dentistry may not be the first place you seek for a good night’s rest, your dentist may be able to help you find an effective and comfortable treatment option. Snoring isn’t uncommon among Americans as millions of Americans suffer from sleep disorders such as chronic snoring. Though people joke that snoring is a sign of a good night’s rest, chronic loud snoring could be a tell-tale sign that a person may be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Dental sleep medicine is an area of dental practice that focuses on helping patients to treat sleep-disordered breathing conditions such as snoring and OSA by using oral appliance therapy. Sleeping well helps you to look, feel, and perform at your best. Your sleep impacts every aspect of your health and daily life and can even affect your dental health. One of the first signs of OSA in addition to chronic snoring is tooth grinding. Your dentist may notice worn tooth surfaces during a routine exam and bring the issue to your attention. Tooth grinding can not only lead to inflamed gums but can also allow for the development of cavities.

Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a chronic condition that occurs when your muscles relax during sleep. This allows for soft tissue to collapse and block your airway which results in reduced oxygen levels. The lack of airflow can last only a few seconds or up to a few minutes. These low oxygen levels cause the body to wake up throughout the night to regain airflow and may result in snorting, gasping, or choking to restore oxygen levels. A person with sleep apnea may wake up an overage of 30 times an hour with no memory of it. Chronic low oxygen levels can cause irreversible brain damage, heart attack, and stroke.

A misaligned or small jaw, tongue with scalloped edges, excess body weight, or a narrow airway are common causes of sleep apnea.

Symptoms

Aside from excessive snoring and tooth grinding, other symptoms that are associated with sleep apnea include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness or fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Lack of energy
  • Poor memory
  • Headaches
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke
  • Obesity
  • Sexual dysfunction

If your dentist suspects you may be suffering from a sleep disorder, he or she may refer you to a sleep specialist for a proper diagnosis. Once confirmed, your dentist will work with your sleep physician to identify the best form of treatment for you.

Treatment options

The most common treatment option for sleep apnea is a CPAP or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure therapy machine. The CPAP machine keeps the airway open by forcing air into the body through flexible tubing. It does require you to wear a mask as you sleep. Though it is an effective form of treatment, many are unable to adhere to it. Some patients complain of claustrophobia, dry nasal passages, difficulty tolerating pressurized air, or the mask shifting during sleep.

For those seeking alternate forms of treatment aside from a CPAP machine or surgery to remove excess soft tissue above the airway, your dentist can help you with oral appliance therapy.

Oral appliance therapy

Oral appliance therapy is a dental solution for mild to moderate cases of sleep-related breathing disorders like sleep apnea. As mentioned above, sleep apnea is caused by muscles and soft fatty tissues relaxing during your sleep to the point where they collapse onto the upper airway and block the flow of oxygen through the body. Oral appliance therapy uses devices that are similar to a mouthguard or retainer that are custom-made to the patient’s mouth to help realign the jaw, teeth, and tongue to prevent airway obstruction.

There are two major types of dental appliances used for treatment:

  • Mandibular Advancement Devices (MADs) are similar to mouthguards and retainers. They fit into the mouth and use metal hinges to push the lower jaw and tongue forward to prevent the tissues from collapsing on the airway.
  • Tongue Retaining Mouthpieces are similar to MADs but have a small compartment or attachment to keep the tongue in place while you sleep.

This form of treatment can be more convenient and comfortable for some patients compared to the traditional CPAP machine. However, some patients may experience jaw pain or soreness, tender teeth and gums, dry mouth, damaged bite, and loosening of dental restorations.

The quality of your sleep has a dramatic impact on your health, wellbeing, and quality of life. If you think you have sleep apnea or would like to learn more about how your dentist can help you achieve a better night’s rest, contact Richard Whipple, DDS.

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