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Sleep Apnea and Your Dentist - What You Need to Know

As many as 22 million Americans suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and a great majority of these cases go undiagnosed. Untreated sleep disorders and chronic sleep loss can be associated with health issues ranging from an increased risk of heart disease (high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation and coronary artery disease), type 2 diabetes, anxiety, depression and more. Your dentists at Vestal Dental Associates, in conjunction with your general practitioner and other healthcare professionals can play an essential role in the diagnosis and treatment of OSA.

Why is Sleep Apnea Dangerous?

Many people fail to realize how dangerous sleep apnea really is. Not only can leaving it untreated cause the problems listed above, it can also cause other issues. Obstructive sleep apnea causes sufferers to stop breathing hundreds of times throughout the night. This lack of breathing is often only for a few seconds at a time, but it can last as long as a minute. This is dangerous. In addition to the medical issues caused by OSA, those who suffer also tend to suffer from extreme daytime drowsiness, memory loss, and terrible headaches.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

Unfortunately, this is a chronic health problem many people suffer from. When muscles in the face are too relaxed at night, they tend to release. The soft tissues then block airways, which obstructs breathing. When this happens repeatedly throughout the night, the body is unable to get the correct level of oxygen needed for optimal health. It’s very common in men, but it’s also very common in women who are dealing with menopause – and who have already been through it. Those who are overweight, those who have a misaligned jaw, narrow airways, and other breathing issues are more likely to suffer from OSA than anyone else.

Signs of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

If you suffer from OSA, your medical professional will need to perform testing. This involves a sleep evaluation by a medical professional who knows what to look for, how to diagnose, and what to do once results have been evaluated. When your medical professional has decided you suffer from sleep apnea, that’s when you determine what kind of help you need to ease your breathing. The most common signs of sleep apnea include excessive fatigue throughout the day, serious headaches, the inability to get quality sleep throughout the night, according to information gathered from sleep studies.

Sleep Apnea and Your Dentist

The ADA in 2017 adopted a policy urging dentists to screen for sleep related breathing disorders. In mild to moderate OSA cases our dentists can use a custom fitted oral device that advances the lower jaw thereby creating a larger airway. This helps alleviate the collapsibility of the airway. The "gold standard" for treating OSA is with a CPAP machine where air is forced into the airway with continuous pressure. Sometimes patients find the CPAP machine uncomfortable and compliance drops off. In these cases physicians find a compromise by having the dentist offer oral repositioning appliances. Today, many physicians are aware of the efficacy of these types of oral devices and recognize dentists as partners in the effort to manage obstructive sleep apnea.

Many dental patients find oral appliance therapy to be the lesser of two evils in regards to OSA. CPAP therapy is often uncomfortable and difficult to use for many sufferers. The oral appliance therapy device works and fits like a retainer, which is much more comfortable. It can also help with snoring issues, so many feel it’s a great alternative to the CPAP machine. Surgical options are another useful tool for OSA sufferers.

Call the dental professionals at Vestal Dental Associates to discuss your sleep apnea once it’s been diagnosed. We can work with you to come up with a plan of action, whether you try a CPAP machine or you are fitted for a custom oral appliance. Surgery is always an option, but it’s one you must discuss with your medical professionals after exhausting less invasive methods of treatment for your OSA.