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  • Writer's pictureGig Harbor Living Local

Sleep Apnea


How dentists can play a vital role in treatment Courtesy of Dr. Rhonda Savage, Uptown Dental & Wellness Center

Sleep apnea is a prevalent sleep disorder characterized by repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep. It affects millions of people worldwide, leading to a range of health issues and diminished quality of life. While sleep apnea is commonly associated with medical professionals, dentists also have a crucial role to play in identifying and managing this condition.

Understanding Sleep Apnea Sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway becomes partially or completely blocked during sleep, leading to pauses in breathing. These pauses can last for a few seconds to more than a minute, causing oxygen levels to drop and disturbing sleep patterns. Common symptoms include loud snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, morning headaches and irritability.

Dentists as Key Players Dentists are well-positioned to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea due to their expertise in the anatomy and physiology of the oral and maxillofacial regions. They can collaborate with physicians, sleep specialists and other health care professionals to provide comprehensive care for sleep apnea patients.

Screening and Diagnosis Dentists can perform screenings during routine dental checkups to identify potential signs of sleep apnea. They can evaluate the oral cavity, tongue and soft tissues for any anatomical features that may contribute to airway obstructions. Dentists can also question patients about their sleep habits and refer them to sleep specialists for further evaluation and diagnosis.

Oral Appliance Therapy One of the primary ways dentists contribute to sleep apnea treatment is through oral appliance therapy (OAT). These custom-fitted devices are worn during sleep and help maintain an open airway by repositioning the lower jaw and tongue. Dentists with appropriate training can design and fabricate these devices, ensuring their optimal fit and function. Regular follow-ups allow for adjustments to enhance comfort and effectiveness.

Collaborative Care Dentists play a vital role in interdisciplinary collaboration for comprehensive sleep apnea treatment. They work closely with physicians, sleep specialists and respiratory therapists to develop individualized treatment plans. Dentists can provide valuable insights into the patient's oral health, offer expertise in fitting oral appliances, and contribute to the long-term management of sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a serious condition that requires a multidisciplinary approach for effective management, and dentists are a valuable asset in its diagnosis and treatment. Through screenings, oral appliance therapy, collaboration with other health care professionals and patient education, dentists can contribute significantly to improving the quality of life for sleep apnea patients.

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