If you’re not getting enough sleep despite your best efforts to live a healthy life, then it’s time to call your dentist.

Sleep apnea (or obstructive sleep apnea / OSA) and upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) is estimated to affect over 18 million Americans, according to the National Sleep Foundation. This common condition occurs when the airway is repeatedly blocked or severely restricted during sleep, causing reduced airflow, paused breathing, snoring, and more.

Because of this, people with sleep apnea do not get the rest they need to be refreshed and ready for the next day. Daytime fatigue and lack of sleep may be due to insomnia, but it can also be caused by irregular breathing patterns at night. And this is where your dentist can step in!

The link between your oral health and sleep apnea

There are many signs a dentist may see to determine whether your oral health plays a role in your sleep. Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is a common sign. Other visual indications may include a smaller jaw or enlarged tongue. For patients with UARS gastric reflux can occur which causes acid from the stomach to come up and can start to dissolve teeth. In many cases, your dentist provide a screening exam such as a high resolution pulse oximeter (HRPO) or may refer you to a sleep study, or polysomnogram, to get an official diagnosis.

A typical nocturnal polysomnography will include hooking the patient up to a machine at night to measure various bodily functions, from heart and lung activity to arm and leg movements. This painless test is usually conducted under the care of a sleep technician. Depending on the severity of your condition, portable at-home tests may be given to the patient instead.

Treatment options for sleep apnea

If the tests determine that you do have OSA, then your dentist will work with you to create a customized solution to help you get a better night’s sleep. Having more rest leads to a happier, healthier life, and who doesn’t want that?

One of the most common suggestions is for the patient to cut down on or stop smoking and alcohol consumption, as those things typically worsen the condition. After some lifestyle changes are recommended, the dentist may talk with you about certain devices to help you breathe while you’re asleep.

One of the most common medical devices for patients with OSA is the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine, which is essentially a sleep mask that assists in opening up your airways. It’s a bit bulky and for some patients it can be somewhat uncomfortable, but luckily there are other dental appliances available. These devices may be covered by your insurance.

Sometimes, surgery may be the best option for certain patients. It’s a more permanent solution that will adjust your mouth and jaw, leaving more room for air to flow through.

Ready for better sleep?

If you’d like to understand better why you’re not sleeping well at night, let Dr. Stephen Coates and his experienced staff help. Book your appointment using our online system, or call our Long Beach dentist office at 562-434-6414.