Treating Sleep Apnea with Dental Care

Understanding the Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Dental Care

Sometimes patients are surprised that dentist ask them about the quality of their sleep. Many Americans don’t get enough sleep they need, and some don’t know why. Snoring and sleep disturbances are often signs of obstructive sleep apnea, and these are usually blamed on oral health. The dentist is often the earliest diagnostician of sleep disorders.

What happens if I have sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea will cause the patient to have repeated breathing interruptions throughout the night. These interruptions last from a few seconds to minutes and may occur 30 or more times per hour. This is due to the muscles in the back of the throat becoming flaccid, the tongue is too large, or the jaw is too small, causing airway obstructions. The patient experiences restless sleep and feel unwell or fatigued waking up in the morning.

If sleep apnea is the root cause, there are several options to care for it, including oral appliance therapy, such as the CPAP machine. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure and is considered the “gold standard” for treating obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and has been available for 30 years. While it is the primary option for care, it’s a mask that must be worn at night, and some patients don’t want to sleep wearing one.

The director and some of his colleagues at the Dental Sleep Medicine and Orofacial Pain at the UTHSC (University of Tennessee Health Science Center) are coming up with a solution to stabilize the whole mechanism, the jaw and everything else, to prevent the jaw from dropping back.

The appliance is custom fit to the patient’s mouth and holds the lower jaw in a slightly forward position, much like a retainer or a sports mouth guard. Some are attached a little, some are not attached at all, but they still have some mechanism to prevent that collapse. The device can also help to prevent snoring in some of its patients. The patient is fitted with the device that best suits the mouth shape and the breathing issue. Follow-up visits ensure it sits properly and is relieving the problem.

Sleep Apnea Treatment Options in Bellingham

Learn more about sleep apnea from your Bellingham dentist and know that the condition can be managed by oral appliance therapy. Sit down with us and let’s talk your sleeping disorder.