Why is My Dentist Asking How I Sleep?

Why is my dentist asking how I sleep?

Patients at our offices in Freeman, Parkston and Viborg may be accustomed to the dentists, hygienists, and assistants asking about their quality of sleep, but this is usually something new or surprising for patients who are new to our practice.  There are a few reasons dentists are involved in the recognition and treatment of sleep-disordered breathing:

  • Dentists are in a unique position to recognize a potential problem with sleep-disordered breathing.

  • Sleep-disordered breathing often causes dental signs and symptoms that your dentist will notice during an evaluation.

  • One of the treatment options for a patient who has been diagnosed with mild or moderate obstructive sleep apnea is a dental appliance to position the lower jaw and open the airway.

Recognizing airway risk

Dr. Jason, Dr. Alex and Dr. Serena have been trained to recognize patients with high risk for a possible sleep-disordered breathing issue.  Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the upper airway is partially or completely obstructed (or blocked) during sleep, which causes a disruption in breathing.  There are two ways that our doctors evaluate the upper airway on our patients.  The first is through an intraoral evaluation, which allows them to visualize the opening into the upper airway at the back of the mouth.  The anatomy of this area (the oropharynx) varies widely among patients, and certain anatomical variants cause a very high risk of airway obstruction during sleep.  The second way the upper airway is evaluated during a dental visit is with 3D imaging.  At our practice, we have the ability to obtain a 3D image of the head and neck, which allows us to take a measurement of the airway and determine a patient's anatomical risk for sleep-disordered breathing.


The dental signs and symptoms

One of the body's responses to a reduction in oxygen levels is to grind the teeth in a protrusive motion, pushing the lower jaw forward to open the airway.  This can lead to noticeable attrition (surface wear) on the upper and lower front teeth.  An example of severe attrition is shown in the picture below.  This makes the teeth look like they are getting shorter.  Some dental symptoms patients may experience are facial muscle pain or tension, jaw discomfort, and sensitive teeth.  Patients with sleep apnea often also experience GERD (acid reflux), which brings the pH level of the mouth down and can lead to acid erosion of the teeth.


A dental treatment option

A dental appliance is an alternative to breathing machine treatment options.  Obstructive sleep apnea is a medical condition that must be diagnosed by a medical doctor, and it may be treated with a dental appliance, which must be fabricated and overseen by a dentist.  Our practice has been treating sleep-disordered breathing for over 13 years and understands this relationship well.  An oral appliance is not the best treatment for everyone, and it’s important to evaluate the severity of sleep-disordered breathing and whether or not a dental appliance would adequately treat it.  Your dentist needs to evaluate the health of your teeth, their supporting gums and bone, and your temporomandibular (TMJ or jaw) joint to make sure a dental appliance will be properly supported and do no harm.


How can I get started?

The first step in treating sleep apnea is having it diagnosed by your physician.  Our practices offer a home screening monitor that can be used to evaluate the quality of your sleep.  It gathers several types of data while you sleep, including whether or not you grind your teeth.  Our doctors will advise you based on the preliminary data reported by the home sleep screening monitor.  You may be referred to your physician for a more in-depth evaluation of your sleep prior to treatment.  If you have already been diagnosed with sleep apnea and have not had success with previous treatment options, we can help discuss options that might be available to you with oral appliances.

Some great resources for information on sleep-disordered breathing:

American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine

Narval Oral Appliance

Call our office at 605-925-4999 (Freeman) or (605) 928-3363 (Parkston) to schedule your appointment today with Dr. Jason Aanenson, Dr. Alex Whitesell or Dr. Serena Whitesell!