Sleep apnea is a condition where the patient literally stops breathing during periods of sleep. The airway becomes obstructed by tissue collapsing; and this can occur hundreds of times every night. The individual may be totally unaware of their condition; but their dentist is in a unique position to help spot symptoms for patients suffering from sleep apnea.
Dentists regularly examine the oral structures and tissues of the upper airway. This gives them the opportunity to help catch the many possible problems undiagnosed sleep apnea patients might experience. And since patients must usually undergo a sleep study to receive a formal diagnosis of sleep apnea, your dentist is a great place to start when symptoms occur.
What are some of the oral problems that can afflict a patient that suffers from undiagnosed sleep apnea?
Bruxism – This is the result of ongoing teeth grinding; often starting subconsciously during periods of sleep, bruxism can lead to worn enamel, broken teeth, and a malocclusion. In addition, TMJ – the temporomandibular joint – can become inflamed as well.
There has been a lot of research done that has demonstrated that patients suffering from sleep apnea may also have Gerd (acid reflux can seriously damage dental enamel), periodontitis (gum disease) and other life threatening conditions such as hypertension.
You might wonder how your dentist can spot a problem associated with sleeping … they may look for things such as difficulty breathing when the dental chair is reclined, or when inquiring about any changes in your health ask you about daytime sleepiness, or inquire about snoring. If sleep apnea is suspected, your dentist may have something to help you get relief.
Oral appliance therapy allows your dentist to fit you with an appliance that is designed to position your jaw to help prevent episodes of sleep apnea from occurring. Of course, there are other things you might try in conjunction with wearing the appliance such as:
Sleep on your side; lose a few pounds; avoid caffeine in the hours before bed; and do not take sleep aids or indulge in an alcoholic beverage in the belief that they will help you sleep. Part of the problem is tissues in the throat relax and their collapse closes the airway.
You can rely on your dentist to help you find a solution. Oral appliance therapy is a great place to start, so contact us at the office of Dr. Philip Kozlow today!