Do you grind your teeth at night? How about abnormal amounts of snoring? Does your partner notice interruptions in your breathing while you sleep? Any or a combination of these could be indicative of untreated obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA. OSA is a condition where you experience repeated interruptions in your sleep that can have an overreaching impact on other parts of your life.
While in-lab sleep studies and at-home sleep tests are a surefire way to get you or your patients' obstructive sleep apnea diagnosed, dentists are licensed to have patients tested for sleep apnea because there are several tell-tale signs of the sleep disorder that could be hiding in your oral anatomy.
For Dental Patients: You & Your Dentist
Especially if you’ve been with your dentist for a long period of time, they are well-versed in any particular struggles you may have in relation to your oral anatomy. OSA is primarily caused by part of your own body blocking your airways during sleep. This could be for one of many reasons, but an oversized tongue, receded chin, small jaw, or flaccid throat muscles could be to blame for your OSA.
It would be quite easy for your dentist to see if you are at risk for sleep apnea because of one of these specific reasons. If you believe you may be suffering from untreated OSA for one of these reasons, talk to your dentist about getting an at-home sleep apnea test. Here are some symptoms of untreated OSA you can be on the lookout for:
- Loud, persistent snoring
- Witnessed pauses in breathing (often from a family member or significant other)
- Choking or gasping for air during sleep
- Restless sleep
- Frequent visits to the bathroom
- Early morning headaches
- Excessive daytime fatigue or drowsiness
- Poor concentration
- Depression, irritability, or mood swings
- Sleepiness during routine activities (e.g. driving)
Dangers of Untreated OSA
OSA, like any condition that impacts restful, rejuvenative sleep, can take a significant toll on your day to day life. However, if left untreated, OSA can also lead to other very worrisome medical conditions later on down the road. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to alarming medical conditions, like high blood pressure, heart failure, Type 2 diabetes, and even certain types of cancer. If you or someone you love is suffering from the common side effects listed above, it is imperative to have a sleep study done soon.
While there continues to be mysteries surrounding the need for quality sleep, sleep disorders, especially sleep apneas, are fairly well understood by specialists. The general consensus is that, no, there really isn’t a “cure” for sleep apnea—especially for those diagnosed with moderate or severe apnea. However, there are treatment options available to those with sleep apnea to reduce or possibly eliminate their risks and symptoms.
For those who suffer from mild to moderate sleep apnea, oral appliances can be an effective treatment option. Resembling mouth guards, the appliances position the jaw to allow for unobstructed breathing by preventing the jaw from relaxing too far back in the throat. While the FDA has approved the use of these dental appliances when prescribed by a dentist, many of the over-the-counter appliance options are not FDA approved for sleep apnea. Be sure to do significant research if you’re interested in pursuing this treatment option.
There is still some skepticism surrounding the effectiveness of surgery to alleviate sleep apnea, but there have been some promising studies in recent years. Currently, the most common procedure to treat sleep apnea is uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, which surgically removes throat tissues that can obstruct the airways in deep sleep. But statistics show that this procedure only helps patients roughly 60% of the time.
CPAP & AutoPAP
While many experience anxiety or stress around the decision to treat their sleep apnea with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or automatic positive airway pressure (AutoPAP) machines, these devices remain the most effective treatment for those suffering from all levels of sleep apnea.
For those curious about the differences between these two machines, the CPAP provides a continuous stream of light air pressure that prevents obstructions to the throat and chest during sleep, preventing apnea events.
The AutoPAP is a newer, more innovative option that senses obstructions or disturbances in your breathing and provides an increasing amount of airway pressure until the obstruction is eliminated. This is an extremely effective treatment for those experiencing severe snoring, apneas, and hypopneas during sleep. Some newer AutoPAP machines include built-in humidifiers to combat dryness that can result from the increased airway pressure.
For Dentists: How to Help Your Dental Patients
If your patients struggle with a sleep disorder like OSA, you know that it can lead to very serious conditions if left untreated. From heart disease to obesity, the quality of their life and health will continually deteriorate and their life expectancy depends on proactive healthcare providers to intervene before it’s too late.
Dentists need to be familiar with signs and symptoms of sleep apnea and be another screening resource when their patients come in for regular or specialty appointments. You can keep an eye out for anatomical features like a restricted airways, large neck circumference, excessive attrition, and hypertensive jaw muscles. Any of these should raise red flags during an exam and lead to follow up questions about the patient’s sleeping habits and patterns.
For a long time, the only way to diagnose your patient with sleep apnea was to have them undergo a complex and uncomfortable sleep study in a hospital lab setting. But now there are more options than ever before to help your patients get the treatment they need sooner with accurate sleep apnea testing results—all from the comfort of their own home.
Other Partnership Options
For medical professionals, ApneaMed strongly advocates for the in-office partnership as it provides you and your patients with the best, most convenient options for sleep apnea home testing. However, we know that this option may not be the best for your practice and so we offer two other partnerships for your consideration:
Referral Partnership: With this option, you can refer patients or employees to ApneaMed for sleep apnea in-home testing. We will contact the referred individual and set them up with their own home sleep testing unit to evaluate them for sleep apnea. Once diagnosed by our board-certified sleep physicians, they will be contacted by our patient care representatives who will review treatment options with them directly.
Mail-Out Partnership: As a medical provider, you will be able to order a home sleep test from ApneaMed and we will then mail the unit to the intended recipient. Once they have successfully completed their home testing, they will mail it back to us for evaluation and diagnosis. Once diagnosed by our board-certified sleep physicians, they will be contacted by our patient care representatives who will review treatment options with them directly.
Whether you are a dentist with your own practice or a patient looking to get better, more restful sleep, there are many options available to you. Regardless of your situation, it is extremely important to have OSA quickly diagnosed and effectively treated before it leads to even more severe medical conditions. Be sure to address any potential symptoms by asking thorough follow up questions and doing your research on reliable testing and treatment options.