If you have sleep apnea you may wake up unaware of the condition but feeling awful, like you haven't slept at all. The problem is that you know you slept all night. While you know how you are feeling, you may not ever consider a sleep disorder as the cause until other signs are pointed out, sometimes by your dentist during your routine exam.
When someone has sleep apnea, they will notice that their breathing is frequently interrupted while trying to sleep. These pauses can result from a lack of respiratory effort, a physical obstruction of airflow, or a combination of the two. There is no consistency to these pauses, they may be long or short and the frequency can vary greatly.
The Signs of Sleep Apnea Noticed by Dentists
Unfortunately, sleep apnea affects more than just your alertness. It can have a detrimental effect on your dental and physical health as well. Your dentist may notice these common signs during your routine exam:
- Receding or inflamed gums
- Tongue with scalloped edges
- Worn tooth surfaces
- Teeth grinding (bruxism), which may cause wear and breakage
- Spike in cavities due to damage to teeth as a result of grinding
- Redness in the throat (caused by excessive snoring)
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common form of sleep apnea. OSA is caused by a physical obstruction of airflow while sleeping. OSA symptoms include choking or gasping while sleeping, waking frequently during the night, night sweats, morning headaches, loud snoring, high blood pressure, and dry mouth when waking.
Even if you slept all night you may notice that you spend your day feeling completely exhausted. Sleep apnea has also been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Why will your dentists refer you to a physician?
Unfortunately, your dentist is unable to diagnose your condition. However, because your jaw and related structures can contribute to OSA, they are often some of the first people who can spot symptoms or tell you if you have an increased risk of developing the condition.
A dental exam and X-rays of your neck and mouth can be performed by your dentist, which may reveal abnormally large tissues in the throat or other airway blockages. If your dentist notes the typical symptoms of sleep apnea they will refer you to a specialist or your primary physician.