A full night's sleep isn't a luxury—we all need it for a healthy mind and body. But 50-70 million people in the U.S. aren't getting enough sleep because of a chronic sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
OSA happens when a sleeper's airway becomes blocked (most commonly by the tongue), cutting off oxygen to the brain. The body rouses from sleep to overcome the blockage. This awakening could last only a few seconds, after which the person immediately goes back to sleep. But it can occur hundreds of times a night and interrupt deeper sleep needed for a good night's rest.
Sleep disorders like OSA are a significant medical problem that could contribute to serious health issues like high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease. If you're experiencing fatigue, irritability or your family's complaints of you snoring, you should see a physician for diagnosis and treatment options.
You should also consider another health professional who could be helpful in dealing with OSA—and may even be able to provide a treatment option: your dentist. Here's how.
A dentist could discover your OSA. Because of twice-a-year dental visits, dentists often see patients more frequently than other healthcare providers. A properly trained dentist could pick up on signs and symptoms of sleep disorder, including patients falling asleep and even snoring while in the dentist's chair.
Dentists are familiar with the mouth. Few healthcare providers focus on the oral cavity like dentists. Besides the teeth and gums, dentists also have extensive knowledge of the tonsils, uvula and tongue that often play a role in sleep disorders. As such, a dentist may notice abnormalities during routine exams that might contribute to airway obstruction during sleep.
Dentists provide a treatment option. Many OSA patients use a CPAP mask to maintain an open airway during sleep. But CPAP therapy can be uncomfortable for some. For mild to moderate cases of OSA, dentists can create an oral appliance based on the patient's mouth dimensions that prevents the tongue from sinking back into the throat.
If you believe you may have OSA or a similar sleep disorder, by all means speak with your doctor. But also mention it to your dentist—your dental provider might hold the key to a better night's sleep.
If you would like more information on how we could help with your sleep apnea symptoms, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”