Improving Sleep Hygiene Through Dentistry: Snoring, Sleep Apnea, and Science
Sleep, glorious sleep.
We Central Oregonians live a work hard, play hard life. Especially these days, it seems. We stay up late working and get up early to exercise. This on-the-go lifestyle is dependent on a restful night’s sleep. However, according to the CDC, around 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder, which only increases with age, among other factors.
Poor quality sleep can be very harmful to the body over the long term and is associated with anxiety and depression, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Without sleep, we are more susceptible to injury, aging, and illness. But with sleep, we can live happier and longer lives. Therefore, if you want to be the healthiest version of yourself, you need to prioritize sleep. That’s where your dentist comes in.
Two common culprits for poor sleep are sleep apnea and snoring, both of which can be screened for during a dental examination.
Most of us know what snoring is, but sleep apnea is lesser-known. While there are three types of sleep apnea, the most common is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) caused by a blockage of the airway, typically the tongue, which collapses against the soft palate, which then collapses against the throat while sleeping.
And anything to do with the mouth is a dentist’s wheelhouse.
According to dental sleep medicine expert and co-founder of Mill Point Dental, Dr. Chelsea Longlet, signs of teeth grinding (bruxism), eroded or crowded teeth, a larger tongue, and a bigger neck may be red flags of a sleep disorder. Mouth breathing is another warning sign, as is daytime sleepiness. And the old stigma that people with sleep apnea are overweight men couldn’t be farther from the truth. Anyone at any age can have sleep apnea. And not doing anything about sleep apnea can reduce a person’s lifespan by up to six years.
The most common treatment for a person diagnosed with sleep apnea is CPAP, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure. CPAP is a machine that delivers a constant flow of oxygen into a person’s nose and mouth, keeping airways open so they don’t stop breathing while sleeping.
For many, CPAP isn’t the most fun thing to wear at night due to the mask. And while there are options to help ensure a good fit, some people don’t like anything on their face while sleeping. Breathing is essential to quality sleep, so other options for keeping the airway open while sleeping and ensuring compliance are crucial.
Enter Dr. Chelsea.
“Compliance issues are often experienced with CPAP machines, so one of the first things we do when we identify a patient diagnosed with sleep apnea is ask if they have a CPAP machine. Then we ask if they’re using it.”
Dr. Chelsea reports that, on average, people with CPAP machines are using them for 3-4 hours per night. Basically, they wake up in the middle of the night, take the mask off and go back to sleep, which defeats the purpose of ensuring you don’t stop breathing while sleeping. CPAP is very effective at opening the airway, but it doesn’t do anything except collect dust if it’s not used.
Passionate about sleep and how dentistry intertwines with it, Dr. Chelsea resolved to advance her education and mastery through the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine Association. And she’s one of only a few providers of her kind in Central Oregon who dedicate their dental practice to sleep medicine.
A sleep apnea diagnosis must come from a sleep specialist. Therefore, if your dentist suspects you may have a sleep disorder, they will refer you for a sleep study.
Dr. Chelsea collaborates with her patient’s physicians to effectively treat sleep apnea with a mandibular advancement device. This advancement device is customized to the patient based on their bite, teeth, and mouth to ensure comfort and durability. And while the end product may look similar to a mouth guard, that’s where the similarities end. The advancement device pushes the bottom jaw forward, moving the tongue away from the back of the throat. By doing this, the size of the upper airway is increased, and air resistance is reduced.
And like any good mentor, Dr. Chelsea practiced what she preached and tried the advancement device to better relate to the patient experience. Her own experience, in addition to many happy and better-rested patients, has solidified her belief in the device’s efficacy.
So, as you consider how to make your new year a healthier and happier one, consider your sleep habits and how they may be impacting your health as a whole. A healthier you begins with better sleep. A lot of wonderful things are in store for you this new year. Be awake for them!