According to the National Sleep Foundation, about 18 million Americans have some form of sleep apnea. In this condition, patients stop breathing during the night. This can lead to many health problems, including heart attacks. Because the problems are often caused by oral health issues, you might be wondering if your dentist can diagnose this condition.
In sleep apnea, patients may stop breathing as many as 30 times in one hour. Often, a dentist is one of the first doctors to notice signs of a patient’s sleep apnea. There are several reasons that this might happen. This can include weak muscles in the back of the throat, a large tongue or a small jaw. Each of these issues can cause the airway to become obstructed.
There are several signs that a dentist looks for during an oral examination. One of the first signs that a dentist may notice is tooth grinding, or bruxism. Worn surfaces on the teeth can be signs of grinding. Eventually, the patient’s teeth can wear and break down, and the gums can become inflamed and start to recede. Cavities may also form because the teeth have already been weakened and are susceptible to bacteria.
Bruxism can cause sleep apnea. When the patient grinds their teeth, the brain receives a signal to wake up so that the patient can breathe. When the patient falls asleep again, the grinding will start again. This cycle repeats throughout the night. There are a few other oral signs that a dentist may look for as well, including:
Tongue with scalloped edges: this can be a sign that the tongue is too large for the patient’s mouth
Redness in throat: this can be caused by excessive snoring
Jaw pain: this can be another sign that the patient is grinding the teeth during the night
It can be difficult for doctors to notice these signs during a routine physical exam. This is why routine dental examinations are so important. A patient may not notice signs of sleep apnea by themselves.
A dentist cannot make a medical diagnosis of sleep apnea. However, a dentist can notice signs of sleep apnea that a patient or another type of doctor may not notice. This can be important in preventing other problems caused by sleep apnea, such as a heart attack. If a dentist notices signs that might point to sleep apnea, the dentist might recommend a sleep study by a sleep specialist for a patient.
If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea by a sleep specialist, then a dentist can fit you with a customized dental device to wear at night. This type of mouthguard can prevent your tongue or jaw from falling back and obstructing your airway. If you grind your teeth at night as well, then this dental device can also prevent you from grinding and causing damage to your teeth. A dentist can also recommend restorative options for you if grinding has already damaged your teeth.
Request an appointment here: https://familydentistphoenix.com or call Phoenix Family Dentistry at (602) 547-9007 for an appointment in our Phoenix office.
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