The short answer is YES, your dentist CAN identify and screen for sleep apnea, but NO, your dentist cannot diagnosis the disease! And it is our obligation to do so! In 2017 the American Dental Association stated that ALL DENTISTS should be screening for sleep related breathing disorders. We take this screening very seriously as it can save your life! We help manage many referrals to sleep MDs, ear nose and throat docs, cardiologists, primary care physicians, and more. We have heard more than once, “what you saw in my mouth helped save my life!”
Sleep-related breathing disorders comprise multiple diagnoses centralized around a difficulty breathing during sleep. These include obstructive sleep apnea, snoring, and upper airway resistance syndrome. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, there are many professionals who can diagnose the disorder, including primary care physicians, sleep medicine professionals, ENT doctors, pulmonologists, and neurologists. A couple of often overlooked professionals that can spot the red flags of sleep apnea include airway specialists and even dentists! Here’s everything you need to know about how an airway specialist or dentist screens for sleep apnea.
What Are the Types of Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a severe sleep disorder that occurs when your breathing is interrupted during your sleep. The interruptions during rest cause CO2 to build up, damaging and overstimulating your internal organs. In addition to causing mild symptoms such as brain fog, headaches and general fatigue, It can also cause some severe health issues over time if left untreated.
The three common types of sleep apnea include:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
This is the most common type of sleep apnea. During sleep, the throat muscles relax, which causes an obstruction that impedes the airway. Many people with OSA wake multiple times throughout the night, gasping or choking for air. As many as 15-30% of men and 10-30% of women have OSA.
- Central Sleep Apnea
This type of sleep apnea is less common than obstructive sleep apnea. This is when the brain doesn’t send the proper signals to the lungs during rest, which causes breathing to stop and start throughout the night. It’s estimated that 0.9% of adults over 40 have central sleep apnea.
- Mixed or Complex Sleep Apnea
This type of sleep apnea combines obstructive and central sleep apnea. This is when someone has both a physical obstruction from relaxed muscles and a mental signal disruption.
Regardless of the type of sleep apnea or sleep-related breathing disorder, it’s important to see a professional for treatment as soon as possible. Dentists can spot the red flags of sleep apnea and help you find help. Sleep disorders left untreated can wreak havoc on your overall health and well being.
What Are Common Signs of Sleep Apnea That Airway Specialists and Dentists See?
When seeing a medical professional for sleep apnea, be prepared to discuss your symptoms and answer questions. They will also review the medical history of medications you take (certain medications can cause the muscles and tissues in the throat to relax and narrow the airway) and perform a physical exam.
Airway specialists and dentists are uniquely positioned to spot the signs of sleep apnea, as many show up in the oral area. These include things such as:
- Weakened teeth – cracked, chipped, or broken teeth.
- An underdeveloped jaw or TMJ disorder
- Signs of teeth grinding (bruxism)
- Large tonsils and adenoids
- Periodontal disease (gum disease)
- Specific staining patterns on areas of the teeth
Sleep apnea can lead to significant health issues if it goes undiagnosed. Unfortunately, 90% of people with sleep apnea are undiagnosed. In addition, a recent collaboration of studies found that those with sleep apnea have a twofold increased risk of sudden death from any cause and risk of death from heart disease. All the more important to see someone as soon as possible if you detect you may have sleep apnea.
Find Rest and Relief at Bloom Center for Sleep & Airway Health
Sleep-related breathing disorders can significantly affect your overall health and well-being. Our bodies need sleep for restoration, so missing out on vital rest can throw your body out of whack. There are many things that can be done to help improve your sleep quality, some of which are done in our office, and some of which we help by finding you the best medical care team possible (ENT, sleep MD, etc). If you’re wondering, “do I have sleep apnea?” schedule a virtual consultation with Dr. Turner and Bloom Center For Sleep & Airway Health will help you find rest and relief.