Many people are confused by advertisements or information from their dentists stating that they can help with a sleep condition. While your dental health and your quality of sleep seem to be unrelated, there are actually several important connections between the two. Your dentist is in a prime position to spot these connections and even participate in your treatment.
Sleep apnea is a condition that causes a disruption in breathing during sleep. The word apnea literally means not breathing. There are two forms of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, and central sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea is far more common, and it results from a closure of the airway. The breathing stops because the airway is blocked in some way. Central sleep apnea originates in the brain and is much more difficult to treat.
Your dentist may be the first one to mention sleep apnea to you. Many people see their dentists more frequently than they see their primary care physicians. Those who undergo consistent professional teeth cleanings and oral evaluations give their dentists and hygienists the opportunity to identify problems that could relate to sleep apnea.
Someone who suffers from obstructive sleep apnea is likely to have visible evidence inside the mouth. Your dentist may spot these signs and begin questioning you about your quality of sleep. Typically, the dentist does not officially diagnose obstructive sleep apnea. He or she will alert you of the potential for this condition and refer you for testing, which can give a diagnosis.
Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in people with an anatomically small airway or those with a large tongue and excess weight in the neck. Your dentist evaluates the oropharynx (opening from the mouth into the airway) at each dental check-up.
OSA also tends to cause teeth clenching or grinding. As the oxygen level in the blood drops due to the lack of regular breathing, the brain signals to the jaw muscles to close the jaws tightly together and even push the lower jaw forward. This forward grinding pattern is common in patients with sleep apnea. It will leave visible evidence on the teeth that your dentist easily identifies.
Many people with OSA also suffer from acid reflux or GERD. These conditions bring strong stomach acid up into the esophagus and oral cavity. The acidic pH causes erosion on the teeth, which is visible as a gradual thinning and wearing away of the enamel.
After testing for sleep-disordered breathing issues, your sleep apnea diagnosis falls into a category based on severity. The diagnosis depends on how often the patient stops breathing and for how long. In cases of mild or moderate OSA, a dental appliance is one of the treatment options.
The goal of a mouthpiece in treating OSA is to stabilize the lower jaw and maintain it in a position that promotes an open airway behind the tongue. For many people, this means only holding the upper and lower teeth together (a slack lower jaw hanging open closes off the airway). For others, we can actually position the lower jaw forward to tighten the airway tissues and open the pharynx for the smooth passage of air during sleep.
Some patients with severe sleep apnea will use a combination approach to treatment, involving both a breathing machine (like a CPAP) and a mouth appliance.
After diagnosis, if you are interested in a dental appliance to treat your OSA, bring any paperwork you have and speak with your dentist.
Call Rockland Dental Specialists to schedule a consultation with one of our dental experts. We can answer your questions about sleep apnea, assess your mouth for signs, and help you find the right treatment for your case. Call us at (845) 259-2500 or complete our online contact form today!