Dental Exams & Sleep Apnea

Posted on July 2, 2019 by:

It may come as a surprise to many, but oftentimes your dentist is one of the first people that may notice signs of a sleep disorder. Sleep apnea is a condition that involves blockage of the airway during sleep, which can cause chronic snoring.  Snoring, and other mild forms of sleep apnea, can cause a decrease in your quality of sleep—but many people do not understand why it is happening. Over time, it can lead to bigger issues, such as chronic headaches, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, and even depression.

How Does It Relate to My Mouth?

You may ask yourself: what does this have to do with my teeth?  Well, there are oral signs of chronic sleep apnea that appear in routine dental exams. One of the main signs of sleep apnea in the mouth is bruxism or teeth grinding. When your airway is blocked and your brain realizes that your body needs some air, you often grind your teeth to open your airway.  This kind of bruxism can cause tension in your jaw and pressure on your teeth that wakes you up, which is what happens in an apnic event. Dentists can recognize signs of teeth grinding by looking at the surfaces of your teeth for any flattening or wear of the enamel. Another major sign of sleep apnea is soreness or redness in your throat, which can be caused by excessive snoring.  So your dentist is often one of the first people (besides a spouse) that can help you identify the possibility of sleep apnea.

During Your Comprehensive Exam

When you go in for your comprehensive exam, your dentist will review your medical history, as well as your oral health history. They will take x-rays, and evaluate the condition of your teeth. This is a good time to ask questions, if you have any concerns related to sleep apnea or your oral health. If you are experiencing chronic sleep apnea, then your dentist may be able to see signs of this in the mouth, and can review treatment options for you.

While dentists can recognize signs of sleep apnea during a routine dental exam, they rely on medical doctors and sleep studies to establish a definitive diagnosis.  Once a diagnosis is established, you and your dentist can decide on an appropriate treatment plan—sometimes this includes a CPAP machine, and sometimes it includes an oral appliance that keeps your airway open while you sleep.

Whatever your diagnosis, your dentist can answer any questions you may have, or make the appropriate referrals to medical doctors to treat your condition.  If you think this may be you, call to schedule an appointment for a consultation today.  We’d love to meet you!