According to the CDC, more than one-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep. This means that a whopping 83.6 million adults in the United States are sleep deprived- affecting mood, workplace productivity, and long-term health.
One of the primary causes of sleep disturbance is sleep apnea, a condition defined by interrupted breathing that occurs during sleep. It is estimated that up to 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, the majority of which remain undiagnosed. Sleep apnea not only causes the fatigue attributed to lack of sleep, but is highly correlated with diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and sometimes sudden night-time death. Now, what if you were told the first step in improving your sleep may be a visit to your dentist?
How will your dentist diagnose sleep apnea?
A dentist is typically the first health care professional to identify untreated sleep apnea in a patient. Often, the first sign of sleep apnea in a patient is evidence of nighttime tooth grinding- termed Bruxism in the scientific literature. This condition is often diagnosed by worn surfaces on the teeth and inflamed or receding gums- all of which make teeth susceptible to bacteria that cause cavities. Further indications of sleep apnea are a small jaw, an inflamed tongue, or redness in the throat caused by excessive snoring (a primary sleep apnea indicator).
How will your dentist treat sleep apnea?
A dentist will use his or her extensive training to determine the best course of treatment for each individual case. Often, a mild case can be treated with a change in diet, quitting certain unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, losing weight, or changing sleeping positions. Often, your dentist will fit you with a mouth guard which not only prevents the damage from the nighttime tooth grinding but opens the jaw and manipulates the tongue to improve airflow to the lungs. More serious cases may require the use of a CPAP machine, which mechanically forces air into the lungs via a mask worn during sleep. In the most serious cases, surgery may be required.
As with many conditions in dentistry, and healthcare more generally, early diagnosis is key to preventing an escalation in the condition. Be candid with your dentist about any problems that may be preventing you from enjoying a full night’s rest and a better, happier, more productive tomorrow.