How Can Dentists Help With Sleep Apnea?

Have you recently been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea and have been referred to a dentist for assistance? You may have found this confusing, as obstructive sleep apnea doesn't seem like a condition that requires dental care on the surface. However, cases of obstructive sleep apnea that are not aided by behavioral changes may require the wearing of a dental appliance during sleep.

And while a visit to a sleep specialist is required for diagnosing sleep apnea, dentists can often be one of the first points of contact a patient has in figuring out why they can't sleep at night. But how else can a dentist help with sleep apnea?

Dental Appliance Therapy

One of the most common forms of treatment for sleep apnea is the use of a dental appliance. This appliance is similar in appearance to a mouthpiece that athletes wear and is worn only when the patient goes to bed. A dental appliance works by increasing the tongue's muscle tone, stabilizing the tongue and lower jaw and repositioning the mouth during sleep.

There are two main types of dental appliances: tongue retaining appliances and mandibular repositioning appliances. The tongue retaining appliance is designed to keep the back of the tongue from collapsing while the patient is sleeping.

This helps keep from obstructing the patient's airway. Mandibular repositioning appliances pull the tongue forward during sleep and reposition the lower jaw. This helps keep the mouth from opening, which can also help with snoring.

Surgical Treatment

Patients with the most severe cases of sleep apnea may be referred for surgical treatment. While most surgical treatments involve the soft palate, throat and airways, tongue reduction surgery is also an option. This is not a common treatment option, but it is one that may involve the assistance of a dentist. Tongue reduction surgery focuses on the base of the tongue.

Noticing Sleep Apnea

While signs of sleep apnea such as snoring, excessive tiredness and morning headaches can be recognized by a physician, the sign of dry mouth is something that patients may discuss with their dentist. Dry mouth is caused by breathing through the mouth during sleep, resulting in the mouth being left open all night.

If you feel that you may be suffering from sleep apnea, consider talking to your dentist on your next visit. While they cannot properly diagnose the condition, they can help you go over the symptoms and treatment options that are available. Your dentist may also be able to refer you to a specialist that can help you begin the treatment process.

To learn more, contact a professional like Dr. Jeffrey Pancer and Associates.