If you’re struggling with sleeplessness, or if you’ve been told that you snore terribly, you might be able to find relief at an unlikely place: the dentist’s office. Dentists are often the first providers to diagnose sleep disorders, as many sleep disturbances are caused by inadequate oral health. Below is more information about how your dentist can help with sleep apnea and similar issues.
Sleep apnea is a condition which causes repeated breathing interruptions throughout the night. The pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes, and may occur 30 or more times per hour. There are multiple reasons why the airway becomes obstructed. The muscles in the back of the throat might be weak, the tongue might be too large, or the jaw might be too small.
One primary symptom of sleep apnea is tooth grinding, or bruxism. Experts believe that the grinding sends a message to the brain to wake up so the patient can take a breath. Grinding can cause worn tooth surfaces, cracks, breakage, and even inflamed or receding gums. The force of grinding also damages teeth and makes them more susceptible to bacteria, which will cause a spike in cavities. Finally, a tongue with scalloped edges or redness in the throat can all be signs of sleep apnea.
While there have been some high-profile deaths linked to sleep apnea, such as with Judge Antonin Scalia, the long-term consequences are actually the most dangerous. Gasping for breath and waking up repeatedly not only diminishes sleep quality and causes fatigue; it is also linked with high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
If you think you have sleep apnea, a physician or non-dental specialist will usually recommend a sleep study and make the diagnosis. However, there are a few ways your dentist can help alleviate symptoms in the short term. If you are grinding your teeth at night, an oral appliance such as a dental night guard can help stop the behavior. A custom nightguard made at the dentist office can be more effective than over-the-counter alternatives.
Your dentist might also be able to provide a mandibular advancement appliance, tongue retaining appliance, or palatial lifting device, all of which adjust the jaw or tongue to prevent the airway from closing. Oral appliance therapy is one of the most effective treatments for sleep apnea, and in some cases, can help patients avoid having to use a CPAP machine. (Of course, it is important to ask your general doctor as well as your dentist which option is best for you.)
Park Cedar Dentistry is a Charlotte, NC dentistry specializing in sleep apnea, general dentistry, and cosmetic dentistry. To schedule an appointment with our office, click here.