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Can a Dentist Diagnose Sleep Apnea?

Jun 01, 2023
Sleep apnea, a condition that interrupts your breathing, sometimes hundreds of times a night, puts you at risk for a wide range of health conditions. Learn about risk factors, treatments, and how your dentist can help here.

Are you feeling exhausted during the day, even though you go to bed early? When you feel tired like this long-term, every area of your life suffers, from focusing on your studies to being on point during an important work meeting.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition that causes you to be tired — even when you think you’ve gotten sufficient rest — and results in other symptoms that many don’t associate with the condition. However, your dentist can help.

The committed team at Plaza Dental Group offers much needed help for patients struggling  with sleep apnea, so they can return to being active and enjoying life again instead of feeling inexplicably weary. 

The facts about sleep apnea

The alarming statistic about sleep apnea is that, according to the American Medical Association, 30 million Americans have it, but only 6 million are diagnosed with it — so scores of people have no idea they’re living with the condition.

What happens when you have sleep apnea is that, while you sleep, you have brief periods of time when you actually stop breathing, because the muscles at the back of your throat that support your soft palate relax. 

This makes your throat close, either partially or fully, for a brief period of time. When you stop breathing for those seconds, your brain reflexively awakens you so you start breathing again — and this typically happens without you ever being aware of it. 

Many of the partners of sleep apnea sufferers notice that when sufferers awaken, they gasp or snort. It may surprise you to learn that this pattern can repeat over 30 times per hour — all night long! It’s easy to understand the chronic exhaustion that you feel with sleep apnea when you realize it’s impossible to enter into deep, REM sleep. 

Untreated sleep apnea puts you at risk for:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart problems
  • Insulin resistance and diabetes
  • Post-surgical problems
  • Liver problems
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Car accidents 
  • Workplace mishaps

And in addition to feeling depleted when you don’t get enough high-quality rest, it also affects your mood, making you irritable. 

You’re more likely to suffer from sleep apnea if you have a larger neck circumference, are overweight or obese (which causes snoring), a smoker, or you live with chronic nasal congestion. Certain medical conditions, like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and asthma, are additional risk factors. 

Lifestyle factors like alcohol consumption and tranquilizer or sedative use up your chances of being affected by sleep apnea as well. 

Nonmodifiable risk factors for sleep apnea include a family history of the condition, being older, being male, having a naturally narrow airway, or still having your adenoids or tonsils. 

Your dentist’s role in diagnosing and treating sleep apnea

Now that you know the dangers and discomfort associated with sleep apnea, it’s easy to see why it needs to be treated. But what treatments are available?

Before you’re treated, you need an accurate sleep apnea diagnosis — but who makes it? Dentists are often the first clinicians to gain an inkling that a patient has sleep apnea because they routinely examine your mouth. They may see anatomical features that point to sleep apnea, such as a larger neck circumference, excess pounds, a narrow airway, a large tongue, or intact tonsils. 

During a sleep apnea screening, your dentist may ask you whether you snore often or loudly or have nighttime breathing problems. Often, you might not know the answers to those questions, but they may have been supplied by your partner! 

If your dentist suspects sleep apnea, they refer you to a sleep medicine specialist or your own primary care physician for further evaluation and possible diagnosis. 

The standard treatment for sleep apnea has been using a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which regulates your breathing but is uncomfortable in that it’s large, loud, disruptive, and involves wearing a mask over your nose and mouth all night. 

Fortunately, your dentist has a treatment option that more and more people are embracing: 

We have the ability to make a special dental appliance that aligns your jaw and stops your throat tissue from blocking your airway. 

WIth uninterrupted breathing, you can actually get a good night’s sleep again! And don’t worry, we check up with you regularly to ensure that the fit is right for the appliance to be effective. By using it, you eliminate lots of hassles from your life, including being uncomfortable in bed, noise, and challenges with traveling, since your appliance is easily portable. 

Call our conveniently located office in West Des Moines, Iowa, at 515-224-5999 to schedule an appointment and discussion about sleep apnea, or use our convenient online booking tool.