Sleep apnea happens when you stop breathing for 10 seconds or more during the night while you sleep. These pauses can happen many times and may last for a minute or longer. This condition is generally considered serious and has different types, including obstructive, central, and complex sleep apnea syndrome. Dentists are often the first professionals to notice the symptoms of your sleep apnea, and they play a vital part in helping to treat this condition!
During Your Dentist Visit
Dentists can notice the signs for sleep apnea, since you may complain of headaches, dry mouth (mouth breathing while sleeping) or lethargy. You also see your dentist more often than the doctor, usually every six months or at the least every year for your checkup and professional cleaning. Be open with your dentist and talk with him or her about any symptoms you’re experiencing.
Your dentist is trained to notice the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea—and if you’re breathing through your mouth while sleeping, dry mouth could create an increased risk for cavities and even gum disease. If your dentist thinks you may be suffering from sleep apnea, he or she will recommend a sleep medicine specialist to diagnose you.
Treatment at the Dentist Office
Treatment for sleep apnea can’t happen until you get diagnosed with this sleep disorder. Once you have a confirmed diagnosis, your dentist can actually help treat your sleep apnea! Depending on your type of sleep apnea, an oral appliance may help. Oral appliances reposition the jaw and tongue to improve airflow. They’re easy to wear, removable, and only worn while you sleep.
Sleep apnea oral appliances are covered by many insurance companies as essential treatment for sleep apnea. They help to keep your upper airway open and therefore prevent the collapse of your airway while you sleep, which can cause you to stop breathing. Your dentist has undergone training to recognize symptoms of sleep apnea as well as to treat it. Talk to your health care professionals about your symptoms!
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
It’s important to know the risk factors as well as the symptoms of sleep apnea to determine if you’re at risk and if you are, when to seek a professional diagnosis of your condition. The risk factors for sleep apnea include:
Being overweight or obese
Age (older adults experience sleep apnea more often)
Alcohol use or abuse
Being a man (men are twice as likely to experience sleep apnea)
The symptoms of sleep apnea range from snoring, dry mouth, and fatigue during the day to irritability, a dull headache, or awakening during the night short of breath. If you have any of these symptoms, discuss them with your doctor to see if a sleep apnea oral appliance could help alleviate your symptoms!
Sleep apnea is considered a serious sleeping disorder that can increase your risk of death and lead to other serious health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and atrial fibrillation (AFIB). Talk to your dentist about any symptoms you’re experiencing, and ask if he or she can recommend a sleep specialist. Sleep apnea can be treated by your dentist, so don’t ignore the signs!