Yes, you read that right. We can help treat sleep apnea here at Apple Tree Dental. For some that may seem like a rather strange thing for a dentist to do. Many people believe a CPAP machine is the only option to treat sleep apnea, and while that may be recommended for some types of sleep apnea, that certainly is not the case for all patients suffering from sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea is a condition that affects millions of people. The disorder is identified by repeated actions of stopping and starting to breathe during the average night's sleep. According to Sleepapnea.org (https://www.sleepapnea.org/learn/sleep-apnea-information-clinicians/), "It is estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, with 80 percent of the cases of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea undiagnosed."
When people think of sleep apnea, most have a misconception about what kinds of people have sleep apnea. The number one group with sleep apnea is males with an increased BMI, but the number two group is healthy females in their 40’s. An estimated 10 million Americans are undiagnosed, but if we could increase the awareness of this disease, we could help lower that number. This is a serious problem because there are many negative side effects to untreated sleep apnea.
When the body does not get the oxygen it needs it leads to some pretty startling side effects. The first thing the body may do is shift the jaw as it is trying to open the airway. This often leads to teeth grinding which of course causes problems for our dental health. Snoring may accompany the grinding which can cause problems for spouses. In some cases, I have seen snoring so severe it has led couples to sleep in separate bedrooms.
Untreated sleep apnea typically worsens with time, and other comorbidities may develop. High blood pressure is often present in people with sleep apnea. Diabetes can develop causing a greater burden on the patient. Untreated sleep apnea has even been found to lead to strokes. With these many negative side effects, it is important to find a solution that works.
At Apple Tree Dental we look at three different symptoms that may be present in a patient that has a sleeping disorder.
If a patient tells us they have any of these issues, or if we see signs of these problems then there are a few different routes we may take to help. The majority of the time there is a fairly simple fix.
When a patient comes to us, and we see signs of grinding teeth or they are complaining about snoring, we can send a patient home with a courtesy pulse oximeter screening to test their oxygen levels at night. This is the first step we take to see if there may be more problems than just grinding teeth or snoring. If the oxygen levels come back normal, we can create an oral appliance that will prevent teeth from grinding. If snoring is also present, we can create an appliance that will pull the jaw forward during the night to eliminate snoring and prevent the teeth from grinding. We have helped save patients’ teeth, and put couples back into the same bedroom again from these appliances.
If the pulse oximeter comes back with abnormal oxygen readings, then we will suggest an at-home sleep study which can be completed in two nights in the comfort of your own bed. From here we will have an understanding of the severity of the sleep apnea.
In mild and moderate cases, we can often treat the sleep apnea with an oral appliance we will custom fit for the patient. This tends to be less intrusive than a CPAP machine, and the number of people who will use an oral appliance vs. a CPAP is much higher. A CPAP machine is a very good option for many cases of sleep apnea, and it works for thousands of people.
In severe cases, CPAP therapy is the best first line treatment, and patients with this diagnosis will be referred to see a sleep specialist or their physician to initiate therapy.
We have had patients so excited about the treatment they received from Apple Tree Dental that they come back and tell us about their experience. It may be that their snoring has ceased and they are able to sleep with their spouse again. It may be that they simply are more rested now that they are not waking up coughing. It may be that their teeth do not grind anymore. Whatever it is we are excited to be able to help people treat their sleeping disorders and get them back to a healthy sleep.