Dentists can check for signs of sleep apnea

Vernon dentist Dr. Shawn Lee explains some of the signs people can look for that might indicate sleep apnea

Vernon dentist Dr. Shawn Lee says dentists can watch for signs of sleep apnea.

Vernon dentist Dr. Shawn Lee says dentists can watch for signs of sleep apnea.

According to a new study led by a University at Buffalo orthodontic researcher, dentists are in the unique position as health care professionals to pinpoint signs of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep due to blocked upper airways.

“Dentists see into their patients’ mouths more than physicians do and the signs are easy to identify,” said Dr. Al-Jewair, clinical assistant professor in the UB School of Dental Medicine. “We need to teach (dental) students about this condition before they get out in the field, and educate dentists about the major role they play in identifying and treating patients with sleep-related disorders.”

Although dentists cannot diagnose the disorder, they can spot an enlarged tongue or tonsils and recommend a patient to a sleep medicine specialist.

Local dentist Dr. Shawn Lee said one of the signs of sleep apnea patients is loud snoring.

“Listen to your partner,” he said. “If your snoring is disturbing him or her, you may have a more serious problem, especially if you are noticing daytime drowsiness and exhaustion.”

Sleep clinics can diagnose the problem and often prescribe a CPAP machine. However, patients may find the machine cumbersome or uncomfortable. An alternative is a custom oral “snoring” appliance, said Lee. While expensive, these appliance may possibly be covered by extended health plans if it is determined that the patient cannot tolerate the CPAP.

Regardless of your choice of treatment, sleep apnea should not be ignored, said Lee, as severe cases of the disorder are linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, memory loss and more.

Of the 200 people tested in the study, the results found that 23 per cent of participants were at risk for OSA, of whom nearly 80 per cent were male.

The factors most common among people who were identified as high risk for OSA, along with obesity, were large tonsils, tongue indentations and a high Epworth Sleepiness Scale score, another questionnaire used to measure daytime sleepiness.