For those with ALS, a sleep apnea diagnosis is more likely

I think it is important to remain up-to-date with advancements is care. This is the same for links in conditions, such as sleep apnea and ALS. In ALS News Today I read about a recent study that looked at the prevalence of sleep disturbances in ALS patients and how it might correlate with a patient’s overall neurological status, including disease duration, progression rate and respiratory muscle function.

What was the connection?

Results from this study showed that the prevalence of sleep apnea was increased in ALS patients compared to the general population. There were 40 percent of patients that experienced nocturnal hypoventilation. And more than 45 percent of them had more than fie apneas, a complete loss of breathing, a partial loss of breathing, per hour.

Additionally, 22 percent of ALS patients’  sleep apnea and nocturnal hypoventilation coincided. This was significantly more common in male than female patients, but researchers were unable to find any differences between genders in regard to age, disease duration, the amount of air that the lungs could expel after having been filled completely and ALS functional rating scale scores.

We can help

That’s right. While you might not feel like you can help, you can. We can provide those patients with sleep apnea treatment for improved care. Oral appliance therapy can be an effective way to treat OSA in these patients. However, it is important to work with their physician for the best care possible.

Watch Out for Sleep Apnea with New Hypertension Guideline

Since the new hypertension guideline from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association was released in November 2017, the way physicians diagnose and treat high blood pressure has changed. And with the new guideline comes a section on sleep apnea. Have you seen this new guideline yet?  

What does the guideline say?

The new guideline lowers the blood pressure cutoff for a hypertension diagnosis from 140/90 mm Hg to 130/80 mm Hg. And instead of using the term prehypertension, they recommend using stage 1 hypertension for levels of 130 to 139 mm Hg systolic or 80 to 89 mm Hg diastolic pressure and 120 to 129 mm Hg systolic and diastolic of less than 80 as “elevated.”

For obstructive sleep apnea, it is a risk factor for several cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension, coronary and cerebrovascular diseases. Studies have shown that the presence of OSA is associated with an increased risk of hypertension. It has also been hypothesized that treatment for sleep apnea will have more pronounced effects on BP reduction in resistant hypertension.

What does this mean for dentists?

This means we need to be extra cautious of our patients. Now that the level for hypertension has lowered, we need to pay attention to how that affects sleep apnea and vice versa. The guideline also recommends CPAP therapy as an effective form of treatment for improving sleep apnea, but studies that have been conducted showed that its effects on BP were only small.

Through the guideline, we can accept that CPAP therapy is an option, but what about oral appliance therapy? With the number of individuals with hypertension now at almost 50 percent, we need to pay closer attention to OSA and how it affects hypertension and high blood pressure.

Talk to your patients, include information on the health questionnaire and provide educational materials so that you can continue to provide your patients with the care they need and deserve. On top of that continue to complete advanced education to remain up-to-date with important information.

Tell your patients driving while drowsy is dangerous

Driving while drowsy means our patients are about eight times more likely to cause an accident. These federal estimates were found in a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. In their study, they used in-vehicle camera footage of thousands of drivers that agreed to participate. After reviewing the cameras and results, the study found that drivers are falling asleep at the wheel at an alarming rate. It’s more than we thought.

With more than 700 crashes examined in the study, about 9.5 percent were caused by a drowsy driver. Drowsiness also played a role in almost 11 percent of accidents that caused serious property damage. This means we need to educate our patients more than ever before about the detrimental effects of sleep apnea not only on their health, but their surroundings.

Encourage patients to get more sleep

If a patient just isn’t sleeping, tell them to get more sleep. The AAA Foundation recommends getting at least seven hours of sleep a night before driving. While that sounds like a great idea, it isn’t always going to happen. In fact, about 35 percent of U.S. drivers actually sleep less than seven hours a night according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And if you sleep for just four or five hours, it can quadruple your risk for an accident. However, if the patient has sleep apnea, that might be a different story when it comes to getting enough sleep each night.

Provide treatment for sleep apnea

Part of the issue is that many of patients need a lifestyle change to be able to sleep more, while others suffer from sleep apnea and don’t even realize it. Sleep apnea can make our patients feel sleepy enough to be drowsy drivers. Even if they stop the car and take a short nap, odds are they will still feel tired.

Patients that suffer from sleep apnea and are often found driving can experience altered senses that are commonly used to drive safely. It will often be difficult for them to focus their eyes, remain alert and to react quickly during various driving situations.

To combat this, it is important to not only educate our patients on the risk of untreated sleep apnea, but to also be able to identify signs and symptoms so we can recommend proper treatment or a sleep physician for diagnosis.  

What are you doing to help your patients get the sleep they need to function daily?

Pay attention to dental side effects during long-term oral appliance therapy

We understand how successful treatment of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can be. However, we need to pay attention to the potential side effects from long-term oral appliance use. If we are aware of these side effects, we can help educate our patients and prevent them from occurring and interrupting care.

What do we do as dentists to help?

I have read several studies that looked at the predictors of dental changes associated with long-term treatment with oral appliances in patients with OSA. From these studies I have found that yes, long-term use can lead to dental complications if we do not educate our patients.

Before you fit your patient for an oral appliance, ask them if they are willing to take at least two-minutes out of their morning to perform exercises. That’s all it takes. Just two minutes (maybe even less) a day to prevent further complications. And, of course, if they do notice any shifts in their teeth, it is important for them to keep you up-to-date. You can provide an adjustment to their treatment or offer other solutions to improve this change.

When you are fitting your patients for their oral appliance, let them know that it is important to perform daily exercises after removal of the device. By performing jaw exercises, it can help prevent the patient’s mouth from becoming stiff or sore. It can also help to prevent lock-jaw and other complications.

It is our duty as dentists to take care of our patients and that means proper education for daily exercises after removing the oral appliance each morning.

What are you doing to help your patients through the oral appliance process? Are you having them perform exercises? If so, what kind? I am interested in learning what everyone is doing to help their patients each step of this journey.