Health: Routine dental visits can uncover other sometimes serious medical conditions such as sleep apnea

By Dr. Sheila Shah

Is there a snorer in your house? Have you been looking for an answer to your sleepless nights? Are you tired of your family complaining that you keep them awake “sawing logs”? There are real solutions to your snoring problems.

Snoring is a sign of the upper airway being partially obstructed during sleep. OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea) is when there are moments that breathing stops, fragmenting one’s sleep and potentially reducing oxygen levels in the bloodstream, and leading to daytime sleepiness.

Dr. Sheila Shah, DMD of Macon Smiles
Dr. Sheila Shah, DMD

Oddly enough, your dentist may be the first medical professional to identify that such a problem may exist. Just think about it; when you are reclined in the dental chair, the dentist can see the position of your tongue and throat structures, very much like when you lay down to sleep.

Your dentist can refer you to a sleep physician for necessary diagnosis to determine if there is the presence of snoring and/or Obstructive Sleep Apnea. If you want to determine if you have OSA, only a sleep study, called a polysomnogram, can give an exact diagnosis as to the severity and frequency of apnea.

If you are simply a snorer or have only mild apnea, your dentist may recommend an oral appliance which you wear during sleep. This appliance can reposition and hold the lower jaw forward to prevent the tongue and other structures from obstructing or blocking the airway.

If you wonder why you feel tired most of the time, OSA could be the cause. People who experience hypoxia (reduced levels of oxygen in the bloodstream) during sleep frequently report feeling some degree of daytime sleepiness. This is associated with High Blood Pressure, Strokes, Mood Disturbance, Fatigue, Memory Impairment, and also Drowsy Driving.

If one has moderate or severe apnea, then the sleep physician will likely prescribe a CPAP. This is a machine which gently blows air to keep the airway open during sleep and is highly effective.

If one has simple snoring or mild apnea issues, then either surgery or an oral appliance will probably be prescribed to maintain an open airway during sleep.

A dentist knowledgeable in treatment for Snoring/Mild Sleep Apnea, TMJ, and Headaches can serve as your central caregiver, monitoring the treatment and management of any of the above conditions that need care.

Ask your family dentist if he/she is trained in these treatments, or visit the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine online at www.aadsm.org.

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