Sleep apnea leads to interruptions in a person's breathing during sleep. These disruptions are caused by the person not taking in enough oxygen. This leads to the body forcing them to wake up and gasp for air, disrupting their sleep.In many cases, patients are not even aware of these stoppages to their breathing. As far…
What Your Dentist Can Do for Sleep Apnea
In addition to monitoring cavities and oral health, dentists are trained to help people with snoring and struggles with sleep apnea. Dentists work with individuals to manage sleep-disordered breathing or obstructive sleep apnea. Sleeplessness and severe snoring could be linked to oral health, and dentists are trained to identify any correlation between the two.
What are the early signs of a sleep disorder?
The National Sleep Foundation estimates that over 18 million people in the United States suffer from sleep disturbances related to apnea. In this medical condition, as many as 30 breathing interruptions occur throughout the night, with pauses lasting from just a few seconds to up to a minute or longer. Airway obstructions could be caused by a jaw that is too small, a tongue that is too large, or a throat that is weak or has reduced muscle tone.
Oral health and sleep apnea
Tooth surfaces that appear worn can indicate patients are grinding their teeth while sleeping. Teeth can become broken, the gums can become inflamed, and there could be a rise in cavities. As a person is sleeping, grinding of the teeth or clenching of the jaw sends a signal to the brain to wake the body up to take a breath.
Visual changes in the mouth
A dental exam may reveal a small jaw or a tongue that is slightly misshapen, such as having scalloped edges. The throat may also appear red, indicative of constant snoring. Dentists may notice that muscle tone in the throat is not firm, and patients may complain of issues with a dry mouth or throat.
Early steps for treatment
Before a dentist will begin treatment, a patient is generally referred for a sleep study. Dentists are able to recognize symptoms and offer treatment advice, but a medical doctor is needed to formally diagnose the condition. Pending the results, patients can pursue treatment options.
How can dentists treat sleep apnea?
Dentists are able to counsel patients on the use of oral appliance therapy to treat conditions of apnea. This therapy involves a custom-fitting appliance that is only worn during the night, and it fits into the mouth as would an orthodontic retainer. The appliance is designed to keep the jaw in a forward position, preventing collapse in the airways and obstructed breathing.
Oral appliance as an alternative therapy
An oral sleep appliance provides an alternative option for those who are uncomfortable wearing a mask while they sleep or who cannot remain consistent in their use of a CPAP machine. The appliance may be a mandibular advancement device, which looks a lot like a mouth guard used in sports, or a dentist may recommend a tongue retaining device. This is acts as a splint to hold the tongue in place in an effort to keep the airway open.
Left unaddressed, sleep apnea can lead to long-term health concerns. A dentist can evaluate the severity of the condition and recommend a treatment option based on patient preference and the primary cause of airway obstruction.
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