Sleep apnea is an extremely common disorder affecting nearly 22 million adults and children in the United States. Snoring is probably the most noticeable symptom of sleep apnea, although it can also cause sore throats, morning headaches, and attention problems. The overall effects of disrupted sleep can build up overtime, leading to more serious consequences, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular problems. Drowsiness can also be a factor in many traffic accidents. In children, it can lead to learning, behavior, and growth disorders. In fact, studies suggest that about 25 percent of children who have been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may actually suffer from sleep apnea.
Dentists can often detect some signs of sleep apnea, especially since many people who suffer from the disorder tend to grind their teeth. While a visit to a physician is generally still necessary, dentists can assist in treating the disorder. Oral appliances are a noninvasive treatment of sleep apnea that are created to specifically fit inside the mouth, much like a mouth guard or retainer. They can help keep the jaw in a forward position to maintain an open airway, or gradually expand the diameter of the hard palate, which has successfully worked in children as young as six years old. These devices are only worn at night, helping those with sleep apnea get the sleep they require without disrupting daily activities.
Fittings for the oral appliances can be completed in the dentist's office. Examinations of the teeth, jaw, tongue, and airway are conducted before the dentist makes a physical or digital impression of the teeth. These models are sent to a lab for the actual creation, but final fittings are also conducted in the office. The dentist will also explain how to properly care for the appliance.
Sleep apnea can have serious consequences, both mental and physical. If you or someone in your family snores or shows signs of inadequate sleep, consider discussing possible treatment with your dentist.
Peter J. Samuels, DDS is a local Gettysburg dentist and a clinical instructor at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry.