Most people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) probably don’t know it. In fact, it’s often a sleeping partner who first notices the common signs. After all, the snoring’s not keeping you awake.
But there’s another person who can tell you if you may have OSA: your dentist.
According to a study published last year in the Saudi Medical Journal, dentists have a unique advantage to hone in on the signs of sleep apnea. Because they see into patients mouths more often than physicians do, they have more opportunities to notice indications of airway obstruction – specifically, enlarged tonsils and scalloping along the sides of the tongue.
Other research has suggested even more dental signs of possible OSA, including worn teeth, morning headaches, gum problems, and TMJ pain.
Of the more than 18 million adults in the US affected by sleep apnea, those who are obese are 10 times more likely to report symptoms than their slender counterparts. According to the National Sleep Foundation, many of those 18 million go undiagnosed. Without diagnosis and treatment, the sleep apnea issues compound. OSA has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, depression, memory loss, and more.
Once sleep apnea is diagnosed through a sleep test, dentists can play a role in effective treatment, as well.
Whether you have a history of OSA and use a CPAP device or are searching for help with a recent diagnosis, you may be interested to learn about how less invasive oral appliance therapy can treat mild to moderate cases of sleep apnea. Appliance therapy tends to be more comfortable than CPAP, while also effective in keeping the airway open.
In fact, oral appliance therapy is now the recommended treatment of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine for adults who are CPAP intolerant or prefer an alternative.
“This evidence-based guideline reinforces the fact that effective treatment options are available for obstructive sleep apnea, a chronic disease that afflicts at least 25 million adults in the U.S.,” said AASM President Dr. Nathaniel Watson. “Although CPAP therapy is still the first-line option for treating OSA, oral appliance therapy is an effective alternative that is preferred by some patients. Sleep medicine physicians and dentists can promote high quality, patient-centered care by working together to identify the optimal treatment for each patient who has sleep apnea.”
Most appliances work by supporting the lower jaw in a slightly forward position. This forward position keeps the tongue from dropping back toward the throat. Over time, this helps tone the tissues that line the throat. Wearing an appliance can sometimes double and even triple the size of the airway opening.
These appliances are not “one-size-fits-all” devices. There are dozens of options available. Only a dentist well-versed in breathing disorders such as OSA can help determine the best choice for your unique situation and help get you on the path to better sleep – and better overall health for the long haul.