Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that causes you to stop breathing in your sleep. Sufferers stop breathing for at least 10 seconds, and sometimes for as long as 30 seconds or more. There are a number of different treatment options depending on the patient's health status and the severity of their sleep apnea, but if you suffer from sleep apnea, or suspect that you do, you may find that the best treatment for you comes from a surprising source: your dentist. Take a look at some facts about the dentist's role in diagnosing and treating sleep apnea.
A Dentist's Role in Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
You may be surprised to learn that it's often dentists, and not doctors, who first notice that a patient is showing signs of sleep apnea. There are a couple of reasons for that. For one thing, if you're following the usual recommendations for dental checkups, you're probably seeing your dentist at least twice a year – perhaps more often if you need more than just a checkup. Chances are good that you simply have more contact with your dentist than with your doctor, which puts your dentist in a position to notice signs of sleep apnea earlier, even if it's just through conversation.
You may also show signs of sleep apnea that are directly related to your tooth health. For instance, nearly one in four people with obstructive sleep apnea also grind their teeth at night, a condition called bruxism. Nighttime tooth grinding wears down and damages your teeth, and your dentist will notice this damage. If your dentist diagnoses you with bruxism, they may also refer you to a sleep clinic to be evaluated for sleep apnea.
Dental Treatment for Sleep Apnea
You may be familiar with the CPAP machine, a type of forced-air machine with a mask that is often used by patients with sleep apnea. Patients wear the mask at night while they sleep and the machine increases the airflow in their airways in order to help them breathe.
What you may not know is that many patients find the CPAP causes almost as much sleep deprivation as the sleep apnea itself. The machine is noisy and clunky and the mask can be uncomfortable. Many patients, especially those whose sleep apnea is less severe, look for another solution. Very often, the dentist's office is where they find it.
Dentists usually treat sleep apnea with dental devices, similar to mouthguards, that patients wear inside their mouths while they sleep. The purpose of the dental device is to open up the patient's airway, allowing them to breathe more easily on their own, without the pressure of the CPAP machine forcing air into the esophagus.
Types of Dental Devices for Sleep Apnea
There are several types of dental devices commonly used to treat sleep apnea. The most common is called a mandibular advancement device. It fits over the top and bottom teeth, and it serves to pull the lower jaw forward, and the tongue along with it. This forces the airway into an open position.
Another type of dental device is a tongue retaining device. This isolates just the tongue and pulls that forward, causing the muscles in the airway to hold the airway into an open position.
Finally, there are combination CPAP/dental devices. Working in conjunction with your doctor, your dentist can create a dental device that is attached to the CPAP machine. Because the dental device holds the airway open, the CPAP won't need to force as much air into your airway to hold it open, which means it can be set on a lower, quieter setting. This works for patients whose sleep apnea is severe enough to require more than just a dental device, but who have difficulty finding a way to get comfortable with a CPAP.
If you have sleep apnea, or if you suspect that you might have sleep apnea, your dentist may have the solution for you. Contact services like Jeffrey S. Thaller DMD to learn more.Share
20 June 2017
Being born with naturally soft teeth, I've spent a lot of time in and out of the dentist's office. Not only have I learned a lot about basic dental care, I've also discovered many tips for dealing with broken teeth, extractions, implants, and more. I decided that I wanted to make the most of my experience by sharing what I've learned with others. True first-hand experience is a great teacher, and I knew that my story could help. I created this site to do just that, and I hope that the information here helps you to understand what to expect from your dental problems.