Aug 26th 2020

​How Your Dentist Can Help Treat Sleep Apnea

How Your Dentist Can Help Treat Sleep Apnea

When it comes to snoring and sleeplessness, your dentist might be able to help. There have been studies about the link between your oral health and obstructive sleep apnea. According to Martha Cortes, DDS, a dentist in New York who also specializes in OSA, a dentist is often one of the earliest diagnosticians of various sleep disorders.

Your dentist can play a valuable role in treating OSA. A dental appointment can also help you learn more about the available treatment options for your condition. Some dentists may even recommend wearing certain oral appliances to help improve sleep apnea symptoms. If you’re wondering how your dentist can help treat sleep apnea, read on.

How Your Dentist Can Help Treat Sleep Apnea

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a debilitating and often life-threatening medical condition. It is the most common type of sleep apnea. When a healthy person sleeps, the muscles of the upper part of the throat allow air to flow into the lungs. However, when a person with OSA falls asleep, these muscles are not able to keep the air passage open all the time. When the airway closes, breathing stops, oxygen levels fall, and sleep is disrupted in order to open the airway.

The disruption of sleep usually lasts only a few seconds. However, these brief arousals interfere with sleep and prevent people with OSA from reaching the deep stages of sleep, such as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which the body needs in order to rest and replenish its strength. Once breathing is restored, people with OSA fall asleep only to repeat the cycle throughout the night.

Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax too much to allow normal breathing. These muscles support structures including the soft palate, the uvula — a triangular piece of tissue hanging from the soft palate, the tonsils, and the tongue.

When the muscles relax, your airway narrows or closes as you breathe in, and breathing may be inadequate for 10 to 20 seconds, or longer. This may lower the level of oxygen in your blood. Your brain senses this impaired breathing and briefly rouses you from sleep so that you can reopen your airway. This awakening is usually so brief that you don't remember it.

You can awaken with a transient shortness of breath that corrects itself quickly, within one or two deep breaths, although this sequence is rare. You may make a snorting, choking, or gasping sound. This pattern can repeat itself five to 30 times or more each hour, all night long. These disruptions impair your ability to reach the desired deep, restful phases of sleep, and you'll probably feel sleepy during your waking hours.

People with obstructive sleep apnea may not be aware that their sleep was interrupted. In fact, many people with this type of sleep apnea think they slept well all night.

How Your Dentist Can Help Treat Sleep Apnea

As we all know, dentists are responsible for assessing our dental health; this includes our teeth, temporomandibular joints, and mouths in order to determine if there is a need to use mandibular advancement devices. Specialists would then create models to create oral tools that will perfectly fit your mouth. Keep in mind that a proper fit is crucial to prevent jaw damage. These devices are worn when sleeping to treat sleep apnea symptoms.

These dental devices keep your jaw and tongue in place so that there is no airway obstruction. Your jaw will be held slightly forward while your tongue is held down. This will prevent it from falling back into the throat and block airflow in your body.

Much like most CPAP masks, wearing these mouthguards can be uncomfortable for those who are starting their sleep apnea therapy. However, do note that these are just temporary and may disappear over time as you get comfortable with your therapy. Nonetheless, both CPAP and the use of these mandibular advancement devices are crucial in treating sleep apnea.