June 17, 2010
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The Dentist’s Role in Sleep Apnea Diagnosis and Treatment
Sleep apnea, a serious and potentially life-threatening disorder if left untreated, affects approximately 18 million Americans. During sleep apnea episodes, a person stops breathing for at least 10 seconds. Depending on the severity of the disorder, a person can have between 10 and 60 episodes a night. Sleep apnea treatment often involves a team of health care providers, including dentists, general physicians, surgeons and sleep specialists.
If you think you suffer from sleep apnea, the Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) recommends consulting with your dentist. Early detection is key because sleep apnea has been linked with irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.
There are three types of sleep apnea, including obstructive apnea (OSA), central apnea and a combination of the two. The most common type of sleep apnea, OSA, is caused when the muscles in the walls of your throat relax too much, causing the airway to collapse. Central sleep apnea is caused when the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe.
Because many people with sleep apnea do not remember the episodes, it is often a loved one that first recognizes the signs. If your partner hears loud snoring, interrupted by pauses and then a choking sound as breathing resumes, this may be a sign that you suffer from sleep apnea. Other symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Waking up with a headache, dry mouth or sore throat.
- Extreme daytime fatigue
“Oral appliances and surgical procedures offered by dentists and oral and maxillofacial surgeons can be very beneficial in the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea and snoring,” said Dr. David Stanton, a PDA member from Philadelphia who has lectured nationally on the topic of obstructive sleep apnea.
After an initial consultation by your dentist, he or she may refer you to a physician or sleep specialist, who may perform an overnight sleep study called a polysomnography. Polysomnography measures many parameters, including your heart rate, your blood oxygen level and how many times breathing is interrupted during sleep. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, your dentist will work closely with your physician to determine what treatment is right for you and implement any appropriate treatment therapies.
Dental appliances that reposition the lower jaw and tongue have been helpful to some patients suffering from sleep apnea. Other treatment therapies for mild sleep apnea include avoiding sleeping on your back, losing weight and quitting smoking. Sleep apnea patients may be prescribed a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) system, which delivers air through a small mask that covers the nose. The constant pressure helps to keep the airway open. Some surgical procedures designed to open the airway, including those performed by oral and maxillofacial surgeons, also may be recommended for treatment of sleep apnea.
About the Pennsylvania Dental
Founded in 1868, the Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) is comprised of approximately 6,000 member dentists. It is a constituency of the American Dental Association (ADA), the largest and oldest national dental society in the world. PDA’s mission is to improve the public health, promote the art and science of dentistry and represent the interests of its member dentists and their patients. PDA is the voice of dentistry in Pennsylvania. Learn more about PDA.