Obstructive Sleep Apnea: How Can Your Dentist Tell You Have It?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) develops when the tissues at the back of your throat relax too much. The tissues block your airways, which forces you to breathe through your mouth instead of your nose. Although obstructive sleep apnea is fairly common, not many people know that they have it. If you have sleep apnea, a dentist may be one of the first people to detect signs of it. Here's how a dentist can tell if you have obstructive sleep apnea.

You Snore

Snoring is one of the most common signs of obstructive sleep apnea. About 40 percent of adults snore. The loud noises can keep loved ones awake during the night. But if you live alone, you may not know that you snore, as there may not be anyone around to tell you about it.

A dentist may do a few things to see if you snore, such as ask you about your daily habits. Drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and even taking a sedative to remove stress before bedtime can cause snoring. In addition, some individuals snore if they sleep on a soft pillow or gain too much weight. All of these issues can cause the tissues in the back of your throat to relax too much, or they can create too much pressure on your airways.

Snoring can also wake you up during the night, which limits the amount of sleep you receive on a nightly basis. If you wake up tired or even moody, it may be due to obstructive-sleep-apnea-induced snoring.

Your Mouth Feels Dry or Parched

A dentist may also ask you about a problem called dry mouth. Dry mouth develops when you don't have enough saliva to keep your teeth and gums moist. Some people develop the condition when their saliva glands become infected or inflamed, while other individuals experience dry mouth when they have obstructive sleep apnea. 

A dentist may check your saliva glands for infection and inflammation before they consider obstructive sleep apnea. To do so, a dentist may examine your glands by x-ray. If the X-ray images don't reveal signs of infection and inflammation, a dental provider will ask you if you sleep with your mouth open.

Keeping your mouth open allows air to dry out your mouth. Your throat may appear red and sore, or your voice may sound hoarse. Your breath may even smell bad if bacteria grow inside your dry mouth. A dentist may also look for tooth decay and signs of gum disease. Bacteria is usually the culprit behind these two dental problems.

If a dentist finds any of the issues above that indicate OSA, they can begin treatment.

Your Treatment for Sleep Apnea

OSA treatment can vary from person to person, but you might expect to wear a special appliance that keeps your lower jaw open at night. The appliance allows air to enter your nasal passages instead of your throat. The device also reduces or eliminates any snoring problems you might have at night.

In addition, a dentist may suggest that you undergo sleep disorder testing. The test allows specialists to monitor your sleep habits overnight. If you do show signs of sleep apnea, you may need to use a breathing apparatus that allows extra air to enter your lungs at night. 

You can also address the problems that caused your OSA, including quitting smoking, losing weight, or taking stress classes. If you have insomnia, going to bed at an early time may help you sleep better. Try to lose any extra pounds you have by working out several times a week. Exercise can help your body receive the oxygen it needs as well.

To learn more about OSA and its affects on your dental health, contact a dentist or check out websites like http://silverstonefamilydental.com.