What is sleep apnea and why is my dentist asking me about it?
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airway completely collapses, blocking airflow into the lungs. The harder one tries to breathe, the tighter the airway seals. This airway obstruction persists until the brain partially awakens the person, unconsciously closing the jaw and returning the tongue and throat to a normal position.
In October 2017, the American Dental Association (ADA) adopted a policy on dentistry’s role in treating sleep-breathing disorders including obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It emphasizes that all dentists should screen for sleep-breathing disorders and that dentists should be the professionals who fabricate oral appliances (with a physician’s prescription). Oral appliances are an alternative to a C-PAP machine for patients with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea or who are intolerant to the C-PAP.
Sleep-breathing disorders are “recognized as potentially serious medical conditions caused by anatomical airway collapse and altered respiratory control mechanisms,” the ADA said in a written statement to Sleep Review. “As experts in the oral cavity, dentists are able to question patients about pertinent symptoms during routine dental evaluations and refer patients to physicians for diagnosis. The policy was adopted to address dentistry’s growing role in the multidisciplinary care of patients with [sleep-breathing disorders].”
Dr. Showalter and a couple of her team members spent time in Denver this fall being trained in the screening, diagnosis, and treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. We have the equipment to send patients home with an overnight sleep study that can be done in the comfort of your own home. Dr. Showalter and Dr. Trimbell will assess the test results and send them to a Sleep Medicine Physician for interpretation. The physician will then write a prescription for an oral appliance if you meet the criteria. Many medical insurance companies will cover the cost of this appliance.
So the next time you are in for an appointment, expect your hygienist or dental assistant to start asking questions about your sleeping patterns. If you have trouble sleeping, feel tired during the day, or your bed partner tells you that you stop breathing or snore loudly at night, please talk to anyone on our team to see if a sleep study is right for you. Oral appliance therapy can help you and your bed partner get a good night’s sleep, and it will improve your health and quality of life!