Sleep apnea: How your dentist can help

Obstructive sleep apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders in the United States. In fact, more than 18 million people in the United States suffer from this debilitating disorder, and many cases go untreated.

If you suffer from sleep apnea, you are probably familiar with CPAP machines, but did you know that your dentist can help treat your sleep apnea as well?

Dental signs of sleep apnea

Many people find it surprising that dentists are able to detect sleep apnea in their patients, often before a patient realizes they even have a sleep disorder. If you experience or your dentist notices any of these symptoms, it could be a sign of sleep apnea:

• Jaw and tooth pain
• Teeth grinding (bruxism)
• Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ) – Locking of the jaw
• Cracked, broken, or worn teeth
• Pain when chewing
• Headaches, neck, or shoulder pain

When the throat begins to relax before a sleep apnea episode, the body reacts with a “fight or flight” response. The jaw’s natural response is to tighten up and try to prevent the throat tissue from blocking the airway.

This over-compensation puts excessive stress on the jaw, mouth, and teeth, ultimately causing dental problems for patients.

Because patients often visit their dentist more often their family doctor, dentists play a major role in the early detection of sleep apnea.

Dental treatment options

In addition to detection and diagnosis, dentists can also play an important role in the treatment of sleep apnea.

If sleep apnea goes untreated, it can cause a wide range of health problems and even shorten a person’s life span by up to 18 years. Talk to your dentist today about the dental appliances available to help treat obstructive sleep apnea.

Tongue retaining appliances

A tongue retaining device holds a patient’s tongue forward and prevents it from blocking the airway during sleep.

The tongue is inserted into a suction bulb which is locked into place by the patient’s lips and teeth. Some patients have a difficult time adapting to this device, however it is a successful way to prevent apnea episodes.

Mandibular repositioning appliances

The most popular oral appliance prescribed by dentists to treat sleep apnea is a mandibular repositioning device. An MRD is custom fitted to a patient’s mouth and teeth and fits similar to a mouth guard.

When worn, the MRD pushes the tongue and lower jaw forward, reducing the chance of tissue collapsing and blocking the airway.

Whether you show signs of sleep apnea and have yet to be diagnosed, or you are looking for an alternative option to treat your existing apnea disorder, you may find it beneficial to pay a visit to your dentist.

Your dentist can help you decide the most appropriate treatment for you and provide you with resources to make living with sleep apnea as comfortable as possible.



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