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Dentists Offer Sweet Dreams

April 30th, 2008 · No Comments

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The 2003 National Sleep Disorders Research Plan, put out by the US Department of Health and Human Services, tells us that 50 to 70 million Americans have sleep-related problems, and age is no barrier. The disorders include self-imposed sleep restriction, over 70 types of primary sleep disorders, and secondary sleep disorders, referring to those caused by pain, psychopathic disorder, or substance abuse. Of people who suffer from primary sleep disorders, about half go undiagnosed. Dentists are named in the group of professionals who should educate the general public about sleep disorders, along with doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers.

Sleep apnea, one common type of primary sleep disorder, affects about 12 million people. Overweight males over the age of 40 are at greatest risk, though sleep apnea can affect anyone, including women and children of any age. So what is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person stops breathing for 10 seconds or longer, and this occurs repeatedly throughout a sleep session. In fact, in can happen hundreds of times in one night. The lack of deep, REM sleep causes a person to feel lethargic, forgetful, irritable, and he or she may fall asleep during the day – even at the wheel. Sleeping partners also suffer because sleep apnea can cause snoring (though not all snoring is related to sleep apnea).

Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, can be treated by a dentist, though most people do not consult their dentist about a sleep disorder. However, as the National Sleep Disorders Research Plan suggests, dentists are health professionals who can address sleep disorders and improve quality of life for patients. OSA occurs when soft structures in the mouth and/or throat collapse and block airflow. The patient stops breathing, then gasps for air, making peaceful sleep impossible. A sleep test is the best method of diagnosing sleep disorders, but conservative treatment does not require a sleep test as a prerequisite.

The most common treatment for OSA is an oral appliance like the Thornton Adjustable Positioner (TAP), Sonmnamed MAS, or Silent Nite (though this one is often used to treat snoring, not sleep apnea). These mouthguards hold the jaw slightly forward, which prevents the collapse of soft tissues and allows free airflow while a patient sleeps. Not all dentists treat OSA, though and anti-snoring appliance is easy to prescribe, create, and use. Over-the-counter anti-snoring appliances are now available, as well.

Your patients can learn more about sleep apnea and take a sleep IQ test at the National Center of Sleep Disorders Research Website. A sleep apnea self-test can be found at, along with other great information for patients and dentists.

For a good review of many snoring/sleep apnea appliances, visit the dentists’ side of The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine is another great source of information. The organization’s 17th Annual Meeting in Baltimore will take place June 6-8, 2008.

National Center of Sleep Disorders Research

ADA’s Evidence-Based Research on Sleep Apnea

American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine

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