Obstructive Sleep Apnea - How Your Dentist Can Help

Friday, March 20th, 2015, 3:30 pm

Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious medical condition which causes people to stop breathing during sleep. Why would your dentist talk to you about obstructive sleep apnea? We have several really good reasons!

When we are sleeping our muscles relax, this includes the tissues in the mouth and throat – including the tongue. In obstructive sleep apnea patients the tissue relaxes and drops back into the throat, blocking the airway. When the airway is partially blocked we hear snoring but when the airway becomes totally blocked no air can pass. The patient stops breathing and then, when the brain realizes it needs oxygen, the sleeper briefly wakes with a gasp and begins breathing again. This can happen a few times each hour or many, many times. 

A dentist cannot diagnose obstructive sleep apnea but we can screen for the signs and offer an effective treatment for management of the condition. Signs that your dentist will look for include:

  • Large neck size
  • Scalloped edges of the tongue
  • Large uvula
  • Small airway
  • Reported snoring or gasping during sleep
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • High blood pressue

Some patients wonder why we would talk to them about a medical condition that doesn’t include the teeth. Your dentist and your dental hygienist are the healthcare professionals that spend the most time looking at your open mouth. We look at the size of the airway, the size of the uvula and at the condition of the tongue. If we see something that leads us to think that obstructive sleep apnea might be a possibility you will be directed to do a sleep study in order to receive a diagnosis. Many people say they don’t want to do a sleep study because they are afraid of being told they must wear a CPAP mask during sleep. While CPAP is a wonderful treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, there are other alternatives, including an oral appliance.

Oral appliances to treat sleep apnea are medical devices that are covered through your medical insurance policy in many cases. These devices can only be created by a licensed dentist and are designed to gently hold your lower jaw in a position that keeps the airway open during sleep. Our patients find them very comfortable to use and highly effective. Because they don’t require electricity like a CPAP they are perfect for frequent travelers or campers.

Find out more about oral appliance therapy to treat your obstructive sleep apnea by contacting Wilbanks Smile Center in Toccoa, GA today at 706-391-8777.

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Category: CPAP device, sleep apnea

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