Dentists typically do not come to mind when people think about detection and treatment of sleep apnea. After all, dentists really only work with the teeth and gums right? This assumption is utterly incorrect, and some are actually calling on dentists to be more active in the detection of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition affecting 18 million adults nationally and linked to diabetes, depression, and memory loss. Certainly, with about 80% of sleep apnea sufferers unaware they have the condition, something has to be done to improve detection and diagnosis.

It Comes Down to the Mouth

Obstructive Sleep Apnea DiagramObstructive sleep apnea is caused by a couple of issues that primarily relate to the throat and mouth. The most common issue stems from a relaxation of the head and neck muscles which can constrict the throat (leading to snoring) and potentially stop the airflow completely. Obstructive sleep apnea can also be caused by an enlarged tongue and tonsils which can go undetected unless the mouth is examined. Doctors typically do not spend as much time looking in their patients’ mouths as dentists do, which means that dentists are ideally positioned to perform at least an initial screening for sleep apnea risk.

A recent study led by Thikriat Al-Jewair, an orthodontic researcher from the University at Buffalo, examined 200 patients at the dental clinics at the University of Dammam’s College of Dentistry in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for obstructive sleep apnea. They were then screened for other risk factors of obstructive sleep apnea such as weight, neck circumference, and size of tongue, tonsils, and soft palate. The researchers found that 23% of those examined were at risk for developing obstructive sleep apnea with 80% of those at risk being male. Among the 23% identified as at-risk, one of the most common factors were large tonsils and tongue indentations, which can easily be identified by a dentist.

Trust Your Dentist

While most dentists cannot diagnose you with sleep apnea they are key in identifying risk factors, particularly in areas of the mouth. If your dentist recommends that you consult a sleep specialist, please do not simply shrug off the advice. Sleep apnea can easily be treated through CPAP, which are increasingly smaller and more portable. Dr. Weinstock offers dental appliances, which help position the jaw in a way that promotes unrestricted airflow and may be a better option for some people.

If you or a loved one are snoring excessively or jumping awake at night please do not hesitate to ask Dr. Weinstock about sleep apnea. Michael L. Weinstock, DDS is dedicated to the health of our patients and that goes beyond just the teeth and gums! If you live in the Altamonte Springs area and would like to schedule an appointment, please give us a call at  today.