Sleep Apnea: Can A Dentist Help?

It is said that sleep apnea affects up to twelve million people in the United States. There are several treatments available for this debilitating problem, but did you know that a dentist may actually be able to provide you with a solution?

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea occurs when a person unconsciously takes breaks or gaps in their breathing whilst sleeping. Each occurrence of this, known as an apneic event, must last at least ten seconds in order for the disorder to be diagnosed. One of the issues with sleep apnea is that a person may not know that they have it, as they are unconscious whilst it happens. Reports of sleep apnea generally come from outside observers – someone who is sleeping near to or next to the sufferer.

The most common form of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. This occurs when a person’s muscles and soft tissues relax during sleep and cause a slight obstruction in the airways. The most obvious symptom of this condition is very loud snoring. They may also be plagued by fatigue during the day even though there is seemingly no reason for it.

Treatments for sleep apnea range from a change in sleeping position to the use of ‘breathing machines’ which effectively force the airways to remain open during sleep. However, a surprising solution is now being widely implemented by the dental community.

How Can Dentists Help with Sleep Apnea?

Because sleep apnea affects the airways of the sufferer, it may seem surprising that a dentist can help ease the problem; however, dentists are actually a great choice for the job as they are able to craft ‘oral appliances’ that are tailored perfectly to fit a patient’s mouth.

Oral appliance therapy is a simple yet elegant solution to the problem of sleep apnea. In a nutshell, it involves a dentist taking a cast of a person’s teeth, then designing an appliance (usually made from silicone or plastic) which supports the mouth in such a way that it prevents the muscles and soft tissues from ‘sagging’ when relaxed.

Does Oral Appliance Therapy Really Work for Sleep Apnea?

Oral appliance therapy has been shown in studies to be very successful in the symptomatic treatment of sleep apnea. This means that whilst the patient still suffers sleep apnea, the symptoms are reduced or eliminated entirely. Many sufferers of sleep apnea recommend oral appliance therapy over any other treatment.

The only real downside to oral appliance therapy is the fact that the appliances themselves will degrade over time. This is particularly the case if the sleep apnea sufferer also grinds their teeth during their sleep. This teeth grinding can cause premature wear and tear to the appliance and decrease the amount of time before a replacement must be created by a dentist.

Why Is a Dentist More Beneficial than other Treatments for Sleep Apnea?

Who knows more about your mouth than your dentist? Maybe not even you! With this being the case, there is nobody more qualified to deal with a problem which involves your mouth. Whilst sleep apnea occurs within the airways, the symptoms are produced via the mouth and so can be eliminated there, too.

Another great benefit of choosing dental sleep apnea treatment is that the dentist may be able to pick out specific problems within your mouth that may be exacerbating your sleep apnea. Also, if you grind your teeth during your sleep, you dentist will be able to repair any damage that may have been caused by this.

A dentist is not necessarily the best treatment for you, and it’s always recommended to consider all available options; however, it certainly offers a few more beneficial side effects than the other treatments available for sleep apnea sufferers.

Is Dental Sleep Apnea Treatment a Cure-All Solution?

Unfortunately, no; as previously discussed, dental treatments for sleep apnea offer a huge array of benefits to your health, your appearance and most of all your condition. Having said that, techniques such as oral appliance therapy will not ‘cure’ your sleep apnea. In fact, there is no known ‘quick fix’ cure for the condition – most treatments focus on symptomatic relief. Oral appliance therapy and dental sleep apnea solutions are no exception.

For many people who suffer from sleep apnea, this is all they really need. They will feel better, have more energy and be less fatigued during the day.

Most importantly (for some at least), they won’t be waking up their partners every night with their chronic snoring!

The information in the article is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with an appropriate health care provider.