Sleep Apnea: How Your Dentist can help

All ailments require us to take as much rest as possible for early recovery. Sleep apnea, perhaps, is an ailment of resting.

It occurs when nerve signals from the brain fail to activate our diaphragm to produce inspiration.

The absence of negative pressure does not pull air in leading to oxygen deficiency. These nerve signals also have to stimulate muscles surrounding the throat, including the tongue to contract in order to prevent the airway from being suctioned closed with breathing.

In sleep apnea, these processes fail and consequently, air does not enter the lungs.
There are two main types of sleep apnea. The most common is Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which occurs when there is a repetitive collapse of the airway at the back of the throat.

In obstructive apnea, the stimulus to the throat muscles is insufficient to prevent their collapse and the airway becomes blocked.

In Central Sleep Apnea nerve signals from the brain are absent for prolonged periods of time, and there is no effort made to breathe during these intervals.

Another form of this ailment Complex sleep apnea syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, which occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea

The prevalence of OSA can be as high as 78% in morbidly obese patients who present for bariatric surgery. Up to 93% of women and 82% of men may have undiagnosed moderate to severe OSA, emphasizing the importance of vigilant evaluations for signs and symptoms of OSA.

There are several causes of it. Excess tissue, large tonsils, a large tongue, blocked nasal passages, the position of the jaw, and airway muscles that relax and collapse during sleep may restrict the upper airway of OSA patients when they sleep.

Symptoms of apnea include jaw and tooth pain, bruxism, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) (locking of the jaw), cracked/ broken/worn teeth, pain when chewing, headaches, neck, or shoulder pain.

It can be easily diagnosed since even sleep physician recommends a home sleep apnea test using different lab equipment that you can set up yourself.

While medical science resorts to varied treatments including pacemakers, CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) masks, Genioglossus Advancement (GGA), etc,  according to the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, many patients find that a sleep apnea oral appliance, as recommended by dentists, is more comfortable to wear than other masks.

Additionally, oral appliances are quiet, easy to care for, and portable. These devices can ease symptoms in patients of normal weight with mild to moderate sleep apnea.

These are of various types:

  • Mandibular advancement devices,  or dental sleep devices, which look like mouthguards, push the lower jaw forward.

In this position, the muscles which collapse during apneas tighten so that they can’t fall down. Over time, oral appliances can make the airway stronger and more rigid so that they can reduce or eliminate apneas.

Some are adjustable, allowing users to alter the position where the jaw sits when they’re in place.

  • Tongue-retaining devices though less common, are appropriate for a wider range of mouths.

These oral appliances hold the patient’s tongue in a forward position. As the tongue is attached to the lower jaw, this device also keeps the airway open.

Trouble, however, begins just with the idea of visiting a dentist and the pain that would ensue especially for those with traumatic experience in the past.
This fear, however, is entirely unfounded since we have another therapy at our disposal- Dental Sedation. It not only keeps the patients calm and relaxed throughout the procedure by keeping them sleepy but conscious but also makes it much comfortable.

Minimizing gag reflexes, it soothes a patient who might start to choke or sputter. A patient can choose any type as per his preference.

Whether inhaled, oral or intravenous sedation or even general anesthesia.

Inhaled sedation involves the introduction of Nitrous Oxide, also known as Laughing Gas, combined with Oxygen in the patient’s respiratory system by placing a mask over the nose.

Intravenous sedation dentists can inject a sedative drug directly into a patient’s vein or can make him.

It has an immediate effect on the patient’s consciousness level, and the dentists can change the sedation level when there is a need.

For Oral sedation, patients take a pill one hour in advance of their appointment probably Valium or Halcion the dosage of which can be increased or decreased by the dentist to manage the intensity of sedation effects.

Given the effectiveness of oral appliances in prevent apneas, especially when patients follow up with their dentists.

The myriad advantages dental sedation has rendered, apneas can be deftly tackled and those snores would never get that loud.


  1. Very informative post, Terri. Thanks for sharing. I was actually just at the doctor earlier today reading a poster about sleep apnea...

  2. Wow! This was so interesting. I had no idea about the dentist fixing OSA. I have TMJ, but have never been checked for OSA. I didn't know the two were related.

  3. Excellent website you have here, so much cool information!.. Go here


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