Sleep apnoea (also known as Obstructive Sleep Apnoea, or OSA) is a condition when your breathing is partly or completely obstructed during your sleep, which can leave someone feeling quite exhausted. Snoring is often a symptom of sleep apnoea. But did you know your dentist may often suspect that you snore, or that you may have the more serious condition of sleep apnoea, before you do?
Who gets sleep apnoea?
Sleep apnoea can affect children, men and women of all ages and sizes.
Because dentists are working in a person’s mouth, we see other things besides teeth. Muscle weakness in the throat, heavy breathing, obstruction in the nasal passages, and swollen adenoids, are all obvious to a dentist.
If a patient’s tonsils are large, or if they have narrow upper jaws, these are also signs that a patient may have sleep apnoea. Taking X-rays also helps identify anatomical issues that might make a person more susceptible to the condition.
Snoring and dentistry
A lot of people therefore don’t realise that dentists can help with snoring. They can also help address the causes of snoring before they become more serious.
For example, a dentist can help prevent and arrest the underdevelopment of jaws that leads to the crowding of teeth with orthodontic treatment.
Because we see these anatomical signs and issues, we often see these problems earlier than a lot of other health providers. If your dentist does see signs, he or she will ask you to get in touch with your GP to have a referral for a sleep study. The sleep report will then give you a definitive diagnosis if you suffer from OSA or not.
Diagnosing sleep apnoea
If you are diagnosed with mild to moderate sleep apnoea, a qualified dentist may recommend a sleep appliance (as known as a mouthguard). Since the appliance is specially moulded to your mouth, it can also be adjusted to reduce your snoring.
If your condition is more severe, your sleep specialist may advise you to wear a CPAP mask.
Identifying the problems
When we see a patient for the first time, we do a very thorough examination, which includes looking at a lot of the anatomical issues mentioned.
Because sleep apnoea is a big issue for many people, we are versed in looking at any ailments that may be causing that. But it’s also very worthwhile mentioning any concerns you might have in general too, such as a sore jaw, feeling tired, not sleeping well, feeling stressed, mouth breathing, so we can spend extra time identifying those red flags.
Always ask the dentist prior to the consultation what you would like them to look out for. You just might be surprised by what we find.
To find out more about treatments for snoring and sleep apnoea, contact us to book an appointment.
 Sleep Health Foundation. Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) [Online] 2018 [Last updated Nov 2011, accessed Sep 2018] Available from: https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au