Your Dentist is the First Line of Defense Against Airway & Sleep Issues

Getting a good night’s sleep is about more than simply feeling refreshed in the morning and eliminating the need for that second cup of coffee.

From memory, concentration, and depression issues, to weight gain, high blood pressure, and a greater risk of developing chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, the lack of uninterrupted sleep can lead to some serious, long-term health consequences.

Mindful of these potential repercussions, as well as how sleep issues can affect good dental health, the dentists here at Mill Point Dental in Bend have made identifying possible airway issues a normal part of regular patient checkups.

In doing so, the Mill Point Dental team often serves as the first line of defense in identifying the signs of serious conditions like sleep apnea, then guiding you through the process of ensuring the condition is properly tested, diagnosed, and addressed.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that causes breathing to repeatedly start and stop, leading to a nighttime of interrupted sleep. Sometimes the cause is neurological, but most often the culprit is a restricted airway, such as when the tongue or soft palate collapses against the back of the throat during sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), as it’s called, can cause incessant snoring, gasping, and general restlessness in the middle of the night. This can lead to extreme daytime drowsiness, personality changes, irritability, and frequent morning headaches.

Over time, this can also lead to more severe conditions, like those mentioned above.

The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that around 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, of which around 80 percent of the cases go undiagnosed.

Signs of Airway Obstructions

Fortunately, identifying issues in the mouth and throat that may indicate possible airway obstruction is a standard part of patients’ normal bi-annual checkups here at Mill Point Dental. Where do we look for signs of abnormal breathing?

  • The Teeth: Obstructive sleep apnea often goes hand in hand with bruxism, a condition where people consistently clench and grind their teeth. So, people with breaks, cracks, and abnormal wear and tear in their mouths may be experiencing sleep apnea.
  • The Tongue: Tongue scalloping, or the imprint of teeth along the sides of one’s tongue, can also be a sign you’re suffering from sleep apnea. In addition, enlarged tongues can lead to airway obstruction.
  • The Palate & Tonsils: Breathing issues at night can also be caused by a soft, loose, low-hanging palate as well as enlarged tonsils.
  • Neck Size/Obesity: Those with large neck circumferences or who are overweight often experience issues with airway obstruction.

Upon identifying one or more of these issues during a checkup, our dentists will typically question you on your sleep patterns, incidents of snoring, levels of daytime sleepiness, and so on to help determine if further intervention is necessary.

A Path Forward

If following the examination and additional questioning, the dentist determines you are at high risk of suffering from airway issues that may be leading to sleep apnea, she or he will coordinate with an outside physician to establish an official diagnosis.

While only a physician can actually test for and diagnose sleep apnea, our dentistry team regularly collaborates with doctors—an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) physician, for instance, or a sleep specialist—to help ensure a smooth and successful path forward. This includes providing them with all relevant notes, photos, and x-rays related to the issue, such as Cone Beam CTs.

If it’s determined you indeed have sleep apnea, treatment may include the use of a CPAP machine or, for those with light-to-moderate apnea symptoms, the use of a mandibular advancement device.

Similar to a mouth guard, a mandibular advancement device repositions your jaw as you sleep, allowing you to breathe more normally. Our Mill Point Dental team will design a mandibular advancement device that’s uniquely crafted to address your specific sleep issues, all while fitting comfortably in your mouth.

If you wish to learn more about mandibular advancement devices available at Mill Point Dental, or if you’d like to be evaluated for possible sleep apnea, schedule your appointment today! As dentists, our team is uniquely positioned to identify potential breathing issues and put you on a path toward better sleep.