By Sleep Group Solutions
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a dangerous disease that takes a serious toll the body over a long period of time with a variety of health complications that include but are not limited to hypertension, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. The disease is particularly destructive because sleep is an essential part of anyone’s health, influencing hormone levels, metabolism, and cognitive functioning. Unfortunately, the more visible signs of the disease, such as snoring and daytime sleepiness, are commonly perceived as non-threatening. This leaves many to ignore the more serious aspects of the condition to accelerate over time into something potentially life-threatening.
Fortunately, dental professionals are at the front of the line to spot symptoms and treat the condition. There are a variety of Obstructive Sleep Apnea symptoms that a dentist and/or Hygienist can identify with a simple look into the airway during a routine examination. Common “red flags” for apnea and/or obstructed airway, that are found during a routine dental visit, are as follows:
- an oversized and “scalloped” tongue
- large tonsils
- signs of bruxism
- Acid Reflux (G.E.R.D.)
It’s estimated that around 80% of sleep apnea cases go undiagnosed. Many patients find themselves treating visible symptoms, sleep aids for daytime sleepiness and Medication for High Blood Pressure, before considering a sleep test. This leads to a tragically high mortality rate for those afflicted with heart disease or stroke, as the condition worsens quietly over time.
Aside from the general decrease in quality of life for these patients, there is absolutely the risk of death from multiple health issues if the condition is left untreated over a period of time. We know that OSA patients are at a particular risk for passing due to:
- OSA causes one to stop breathing multiple times per night which causes blood oxygen levels to go down, causing one’s heart rhythm to flutter. This is a heart complication that occurs at the time of sudden cardiac death.
- OSA causes low oxygen levels and high blood pressure, both can increase the risk of future stroke if left untreated.
For many, over the counter snoring solutions such as chin straps and snoring guards may seem appealing due to their cheaper cost and their ability to treat snoring on some level. These OTC solutions can actually cause more harm than good and have not been proven to effectively treat OSA. It is always recommended to have a trained Dentist overseeing the oral appliance treatment process. Dentists are able to measure effectiveness, titrate the appliance and help manage morning occlusal techniques. Oral Appliance Therapy is an effective and non-invasive treatment for those with Mild-Moderate OSA and for those who cannot tolerate or refuse to use CPAP.
It’s worth noting that ONLY dentists can provide a custom oral appliance that can open the airway with vertical and/or forward positioning. There are oral appliances that can treat OSA and bruxism as well.
As dental professionals, it’s important to look beyond the teeth when examining patients in any situation, and OSA is no exception. The airway is a vulnerable and important piece of anatomy, essential to getting proper oxygen levels to your body and brain. To be properly examined, it must be observed and understood in relation to other body systems, including the territory of dental professionals. As dentists, you can do so much to help your patients suffering from a serious health defect that may not have been on your radar. Let’s look past the teeth, into the airway and save lives.
Over the years, SGS has trained thousands of dentists nationwide on how to successfully implement a dental sleep medicine program that is both patient friendly and enables them to enhance their practice value and reputation.