Chances are, you or someone you know suffers from sleep apnea. According to Sleep Disorders Guide, this condition “is prevalent in as many as an estimated 18 million Americans…[affecting] approximately 1 in every 15 people.” Furthermore, “two to four percent of all Americans have an undiagnosed case of sleep apnea,” meaning that “approximately 1 in 50 individuals” struggles with this condition without realizing it. You may be wondering: “what does sleep have to do with dentistry?” When it comes to sleep apnea, it turns out that they’re intricately connected. At our Houston dental practice, Dr. Cindy Flanagan often assists patients with this condition. In the following blog, we explain how a dentist can help with your sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea Defined
Before we discuss how our Houston dental practice can assist you, it’s important to understand what sleep apnea is. Despite the fact that this disorder is prevalent, many people don’t know what it is. The National Heart, Lung, an Blood Institute explains: “sleep apnea…is a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep.” In the most common type, obstructive sleep apnea, something blocks your airways so you can’t inhale and exhale properly. This stops your breathing, and these “pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes. They may occur 30 times or more an hour. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound.”
If you suffer from sleep apnea, you may or may not wake up when you have an episode, but your sleep will be lower quality. In this way, sleep apnea could cause headaches, irritability, fatigue, and other uncomfortable symptoms. In addition, as you can imagine, interference with your breathing during sleep can be quite dangerous. If left untreated, sleep apnea can raise your risk for “high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity…diabetes…heart failure” and other conditions. This is why it is crucial to catch sleep apnea and treat it before it becomes a more serious concern.
When your airways get obstructed, it usually has something to do with the structure of your mouth. It may also manifest in your gums and teeth. This is the central connection between sleep apnea and dentistry.
In his CNN article “Dental screening that could save your life,” Dr. Mark Burhenne notes: “sleep apnea can’t usually be detected by doctors during routine office visits, but a screening from your dentist may help.” Professionals like Dr. Flanagan can evaluate for signs of sleep apnea at routine checkups. Dr. Burhenne continues: “recent studies have shown that teeth grinding, also called bruxism, is a major indicator for obstructive sleep apnea.” If we spot signs of bruxism or other characteristic sleep apnea symptoms at your preventive care visit, we can run other diagnostic tests or send you to a specialist.
How Dr. Flanagan Can Help
As well as catching your condition before it becomes more problematic, Dr. Flanagan can offer a simple, effective treatment option for obstructive sleep apnea. If, as is often the case, structural issues within your mouth are the culprit for your condition, a custom-fit oral appliance can resolve the issue. The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine describes this form of therapy: “worn only during sleep, an oral appliance fits like a sports mouth guard or an orthodontic retainer. It supports the jaw in a forward position to help maintain an open upper airway. Research shows that oral appliance therapy is an effective treatment option for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.” Dr. Flanagan can fit you for an oral appliance, which should help resolve your sleep apnea (as well as the damage from grinding your teeth, if you also suffer from bruxism). This way, we can protect both your smile and your general well-being.
Do You Suffer from Sleep Apnea?
If you have trouble sleeping, awaken gasping for air, grind your teeth, or show other potential signs of sleep apnea, we urge you to come see our Houston dental team. Dr. Flanagan can help diagnose and treat your condition. Contact us today to learn more and schedule an appointment!