18 million Americans experience symptoms of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious disorder that is characterized as a series of episodes in which a person stops breathing for 10 seconds or longer during sleep.
So, what does this have to do with dentists? The common signs of sleep apnea – snoring and audible breathing – are obvious, but not all symptoms are so clear. A dentist can detect the less evident symptoms of sleep apnea by talking to a patient and conducting an exam. A dentist may suspect that a patient suffers from sleep apnea if the patient complains about tiredness, morning headaches, or dry mouth. Teeth grinding is also a common action associated with sleep apnea and a dentist should be able to see the wear on the teeth. If a dentists suspects that a patient has sleep apnea, he or she will usually refer the patient to a sleep specialist.
Treatment options for sleep apnea vary depending on the severity of the disorder. An individual with mild sleep apnea may need to make behavioral changes such as altering their sleeping position, losing weight, or quitting smoking, as well as wearing a dental appliance during sleep. A dental appliance for sleep apnea, which looks similar to an athletic mouth guard, repositions the jaw and tongue to improve airflow.
Most patients do not hink of a dentist as someone they would see regarding sleep apnea, but many dentists have undergone special training for the diagnosis of the disorder. Patients should be open with their physicians and dentists about any problems regarding their sleep or breathing. This open dialogue will allow for a quicker and more accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Dr. Gallardo of Gallardo & Lamas Periodontics and Implant Dentistry in Miami, Florida, is an experienced periodontist skilled in the diagnosis of sleep apnea. To learn more, call (305) 447-1447.