Learn how a sleep apnea dentist can play a vital role in diagnosing & treating sleep apnea.
We commonly ask our dental patients about their sleeping patterns and quality of sleep. Why? Because dentists are often the first medical professionals to recognize sleep apnea in patients. It is so important to diagnose and treat sleep apnea as early as possible to prevent some of the more serious health risks associated with this sleep disorder.
According to the Sleep Apnea Rapid Response survey, it is estimated that around 5.4 million Canadian adults have been diagnosed with sleep apnea or have shown signs of obstructive sleep apnea. Furthermore, 3% of adults 18 and older have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, while 5% of Canadians 45 and older are impacted.
Some signs you may have sleep apnea include waking throughout the night, chronic snoring, and making gasping or choking sounds when you’re sleeping. Keep in mind, most people who snore do not have sleep apnea, but most people with sleep apnea snore. Your risk of sleep apnea increases if you are overweight, have narrow airways, or a misaligned jaw.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a breathing-related sleep disorder that causes pauses in breathing while you sleep. Apnea means “no breathing.” Generally, breathing ceases for 10 to 30 seconds as the brain scrambles to react to the issue. As a result, blood oxygen levels dip and your body will wake you up in an attempt to resume breathing. Usually, you do not wake up all the way and may not even realize you are waking up throughout the night despite feeling tired and groggy.
Sleep Apnea and Dentistry
What does sleep apnea have to do with your dentist?
A sleep apnea dentist can help you obtain a diagnoses of sleep apnea. That’s because there are several dental signs of sleep apnea your dentist can check for while inspecting your mouth.
First of all, sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax and obstruct breathing. Sleep apnea can be exacerbated by a large tongue or small jaw. That’s why your dentist should be on the lookout for things like scalloped edges on your tongue, a petite jaw, or a red throat (commonly caused by frequent snoring, a sign of sleep apnea).
Teeth grinding (bruxism) is another common sign of sleep apnea. Your dentist can tell if you grind your teeth at night by looking for worn and broken teeth, along with inflammation of the gums and receding gum lines.
Additionally, a sudden increase in cavities can serve as another dental sign of sleep apnea. Simply because teeth grinding puts a lot of pressure on your teeth and makes them more prone to cavities. Your body may instinctively start grinding your teeth to send a message to the brain to wake up and take a breath.
What Happens If Your Dentist Thinks You Have Sleep Apnea?
At Macleod Trail Dental, we take an open and honest approach to working with each patient. We will talk to you about the potential for sleep apnea and any reasons we think it might be impacting you. We may ask you several questions to better determine if that’s the issue, as well as go over the common signs and symptoms to look out for. If sleep apnea seems like a possible condition after discussing it, your dentist will recommend a sleep study to determine an official diagnosis.
Dental Sleep Solutions
Sleep apnea oral appliances such as a Jaw Advancing Device (JAD) or a Mandibular Advancement Device (MAD) are commonly used to treat sleep apnea and help you get a better night’s sleep. These devices are custom made by dentists using a plastic-like mold that forms the perfect match to your teeth and mouth. Many patients are pleased to discover oral appliances can help stop snoring as well.
How do sleep apnea oral appliances work?
Oral appliances work by gently moving your jaw forward. As a result, this slight change in jaw positioning increases the size of your upper airway. This allows air to pass through and prevents the muscles in your throat from over-relaxing and closing up. Because oral appliances reduce airway instability, they often work to curb snoring as well. Oral appliances are most effective for patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea.
What about DIY “boil and bite” oral appliances?
The Internet sells just about everything, including “boil and bite” oral appliances you can make at home. These over the counter, or over the Internet, devices are not usually effective for sleep apnea patients. Plus, they can worsen the problem or create an entirely new problem. Your oral appliance should be approved by your dentist, sleep physician, or primary care doctor.
Dental Signs of Sleep Apnea
Grinding your teeth at night
Increase in cavities or dental decay
Receding gum lines
Red and irritated throat
Waking up with a dry mouth
Side effects of sleep apnea:
Waking up with a dry mouth and/or sore throat
Feeling tired even after a full night’s sleep
Excessive sleepiness throughout the day
Decreased quality of life
Increased risk of work-related or motor-related injuries
Depending on the type of sleep apnea that you have, different treatment options include CPAP, surgery, weight loss, and oral sleep appliances. In the case of an oral sleep apnea device, the mouthpiece is made by your Calgary dentist so that it fits properly and is effective.
Dental sleep appliances work by positioning your lower jaw so that it’s slightly forward of its resting location. When that’s the case, it guides your tongue towards the front of your mouth and helps prevent the soft tissues near the back of your throat from sealing off the upper airway.
The best treatment for sleep apnea will depend on the type of sleeping disorder you have. Working with a Calgary sleep dentist can provide more options for your situation and perhaps eliminate the need to use a bulky CPAP machine. It’s crucial that your oral health provider work closely with your physician or pulmonologist for an effective care plan.
Can sleep apnea kill you?
Although sleep apnea doesn’t’ necessarily “kill” you, it can drastically raise your chances of suffering from a heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease (all of which, sadly, are life threatening.) When you look at it that way, you could say that having untreated sleep apnea is a dangerous and deadly scenario to live with. Having a sleeping disorder isn’t something that you want to ignore; the condition goes much deeper than simply feeling tired or getting headaches in the morning.
Sleep apnea also raises your risk of daytime fatigue. So, if you’re prone to feeling tired and falling asleep, something as simple as driving a vehicle could prove to be deadly. Driving while tired is just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
If you’ve noticed that your blood pressure is higher than it used to be, or that you’re having difficulty concentrating in the daytime, it’s worth it to get screened for sleep apnea. Being proactive about your quality of sleep could help you live a healthier lifestyle and as such, increase your life expectancy.
Do dental appliances work for sleep apnea?
Dental sleep appliances are designed to work in cases that involve obstructive sleep apnea (OSA.) OSA is a specific type of sleeping disorder where soft tissues like your tonsils, soft palate, and tongue collapse in on one another and seal off your airway. Oral sleep appliances are designed specifically to treat OSA, by keeping the airway open so that oxygen can flow to your lungs.
In order for your oral sleep aid to work properly, our Calgary dentist may have you keep a sleep journal to monitor your progress. Sometimes adjustments are needed to achieve the best fit and airway position.
Your pulmonologist may even tell you that your dental sleep appliance can replace your CPAP. Such situations are determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the severity and type of apnea that you’re living with.
Since oral sleep appliances are only available through dental offices that have been trained in sleep dentistry, you might find it necessary to search for a provider in your area on your own. Some sleep physicians may not partner with a dentist or automatically offer referrals, so be sure to ask your sleep expert if a dental appliance is appropriate for your situation.
Can a dentist tell if you have sleep apnea?
There are certain symptoms of sleep apnea that your Calgary dentist can see during your checkup. The first is flat or badly worn teeth, along with possible damaged dental work. Since people with sleep apnea tend to clench and grind their teeth together when they’re experiencing oxygen deprivation, your tooth enamel (and fillings, crowns, etc.) take the brunt of the force. Over time, they’ll start to look chipped, have sharp edges, or break down. A sleep dentist will also check your TMJ and surrounding muscles, which might be enlarged because of the grinding going on. They’ll also ask if you’re experiencing symptoms of earaches and headaches, due to the muscular strain.
Your dentist will also evaluate the circumference of your neck. A large neck circumference is a major risk factor of sleep apnea.
If our Calgary sleep apnea dentist notices any of these signs, we will likely recommend a clinical or take-home sleep study to determine a formal diagnosis of your sleeping habits. All of the test results are interpreted by a medical specialist, such as a pulmonologist.
Can bad teeth cause snoring?
Although snoring and sleep apnea can lead to dental problems, bad teeth don’t necessarily lead to snoring. However, if you have certain oral characteristics – such as a small lower jaw – it could put you at a higher risk of having sleep problems because of the restriction on your upper airway. When there’s not a lot of space between your tongue, soft palate, tonsils, and the back of your throat, it predispositions you to snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.
We also know that since snoring is a sign of sleep apnea, you might still have a higher risk of “bad” teeth. People with obstructive sleep apnea instinctively clench and grind their teeth when their brain is deprived of oxygen; it’s a natural instinct. As that happens, the excessive forces can wear on your enamel or even break down your dental work.
People who snore might also suffer from dry mouth (xerostomia,) because of the mouth breathing taking place. With xerostomia, your risk of tooth decay goes up. Even though your saliva flow is lower when you’re sleeping, having a mouth that’s too dry will allow bacteria to flourish.
Can I wear a mouthguard with CPAP?
Absolutely. In fact, most sleep physicians recommend using the two jointly before giving up on your CPAP altogether. However, if you’re someone who is CPAP intolerant and looking for an alternative sleep apnea treatment, then an oral appliance could be the solution that you’re looking for.
Since a CPAP physically forces air into your lungs, it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a sleep mouthguard. In fact, an oral appliance might actually help your CPAP to work better, because there aren’t physical tissues interfering with your air flow. It’s the oral appliance’s job to keep your lower jaw slightly forward, preventing blockage at the back of your throat. If you were to wear the mouthguard without a CPAP, you would be breathing naturally as opposed to having positive air pressure physically pushing the oxygen into your body.
Many people find that if they can’t sleep with a CPAP machine (due to their size and noise) they’re able to switch to a dental appliance instead. But never stop using your CPAP without first consulting with your physician and sleep dentist.
How much is a dental appliance for sleep apnea?
The cost of a mouthguard for sleep apnea is less than the price of a CPAP machine. Plus, it’s smaller and more discrete to use. There aren’t extra tubes or machines to replace/maintain. Rather, all that’s involved is a mouthpiece that you take in and out like a typical mouthguard. Most people are surprised to learn that dental sleep appliances are sometimes covered by their medical insurance. So, if you think the only way to afford sleep apnea treatment is to get a CPAP machine, you might find it’s more affordable and convenient to wear a dental guard instead.
But not all dental mouthpieces work for treating sleep apnea. Only mandibular advancement devices specifically designed for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are appropriate. You’ll need to see a Calgary sleep dentist who works with medical insurance and is also trained in fitting OSA mouthguards. During your initial consultation, our Calgary sleep dentistry office can provide you with an estimated cost of your sleep appliance. Just be sure to bring a copy of your insurance card(s)!
Does sleep apnea shorten life span?
If you’re someone who has sleep apnea, you may be thinking that your biggest problem is combatting that day-long fatigue. But waking up tired is actually the least of your worries. Sadly, sleep apnea can drastically increase your risk of suffering from a heart attack.
Since sleep apnea tends to make your blood pressure go up, it interferes with your cardiovascular health. Stroke and cardiovascular attacks are common in people with sleep apnea, because of the “overtime” their body is working to try to stay healthy.
So, even if sleep apnea doesn’t technically take your life, it can jeopardize it. Someone might not have the heart problems that they do if it weren’t for their sleeping disorder. Ultimately, their sleep apnea condition could be what pushes their body over the edge towards a heart attack or stroke. When that’s the case, life expectancy is significantly decreased. If sleep apnea, snoring, high blood pressure, or heart disease runs in your family, you owe it to yourself to get screened for a sleeping disorder.
Can CPAP cause tooth decay?
Tooth decay (cavities) forms when acids and bacteria set on your teeth for an extended period of time. One of the reasons why our Calgary dentist stresses brushing and flossing before bed is because your mouth tends to be drier when you’re sleeping. And dry mouth can significantly raise your chances of getting more cavities compared to people who have healthy saliva flow.
When you add sleep apnea and CPAP use into the equation, there’s an even higher risk of battling dry mouth. Since CPAP forces air through your nose and mouth and into your lungs, there’s more of a chance that you’ll be mouth breathing and drying out your oral tissues.
Over time, the consistent mouth breathing and dry mouth that CPAP users experience can multiply their risk of getting cavities. The best solution is to work with our dentist to reduce xerostomia, supplement with appropriate dental products (such as fluoride) and possibly consider a CPAP alternative, such as a mandibular advancement sleep appliance. With a sleep mouthguard, you can breathe through your nose instead of drying out your mouth.
What is the most effective oral appliance for sleep apnea?
The best sleep mouthguard is one that’s made by a dentist who is trained in oral sleep appliance therapy. In particular, mandibular advancement techniques. These special sleep mouthguards guide your lower jaw in a slightly forward position. When that happens, there’s less of a chance of your tongue slipping back against the soft tissues like your tonsils and soft palate. Essentially, wearing a sleep mouthguard is a holistic solution for combatting obstructive sleep apnea.
An oral sleep appliance can only be made by a dental professional. Although your physician or pulmonologist can write a prescription for a dental appliance, you will need to have it created by your oral health provider. The process requires an impression of your teeth, as well as special adjustments based on the shape and size of your mouth.
Over the counter snore guards don’t provide the same accuracy, comfort, or results as a sleep mouthguard made by our Calgary dentist. So, if you’re considering trying an oral appliance of any sort, you’ll need to speak with a dentist who is able to work closely with your sleep physician.
Calgary Sleep Apnea Dentist
Connecting the Dots Between Sleep Apnea and Dentistry
From teeth cleanings to treating cavities and recognizing the symptoms of sleep apnea, Macleod Trail Dental offers a detailed look at your overall oral health. If there’s a chance you have sleep apnea, our experienced dentists vow to discuss the possibility with you and go over next steps to help diagnose and treat the issue with dental sleep solutions.
We welcome you to enjoy your next trip to the dentist. Did we mention we offer same-day walk-in appointments? You can also schedule your next appointment online. We look forward to treating your mouth with the care and consideration you deserve.