Why should dentists treat sleep apnea?

Most of the time, people who have sleep apnea are not aware of their symptoms because they are asleep when they occur. If your patient is unaware of his or her sleep apnea, you may be able to identify particular physical symptoms. As a dentist, you play a crucial role in the diagnosing and treating sleep apnea. By understanding sleep apnea and by helping patients to treat sleep apnea, dentists can save many lives.

What is the negative effect of not treating sleep apnea?

Despite having clear signs and symptoms, many patients with obstructive sleep apnea go undiagnosed. In return, when a patient is finally diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), he or she has had obvious symptoms of the disorder for an average of seven years. During those seven years, patients report visiting their family physician about 17 times and a subspecialist about nine times.

When sleep apnea goes undiagnosed, patients begin to experience a range of worsening symptoms and health conditions. By properly educating yourself and your practice, you can better diagnose and treat sleep apnea in your patients, which helps improve their overall health.

What are the complications associated with sleep apnea?

Comorbidities of sleep apnea have been shown to include a number of health conditions, including an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, diabetes, and more. Let’s explore five health problems that are linked with sleep apnea:

  • High Blood Pressure. OSA can contribute to high blood pressure in people who have it due to frequent wakings at nighttime. This causes hormonal systems to go into overdrive, which results in high blood pressure levels.
  • Heart Disease. OSA can also lead to heart attacks, which can cause people to die in the middle of the night due to low oxygen or the stress of waking up frequently during sleep.
  • Type 2 Diabetes. Sleep apnea is very common among people with type 2 diabetes, which can also lead to obesity.
  • Acid Reflux. While there is no proof that sleep apnea causes acid reflux or persistent heartburn, it has been shown that people with sleep apnea do complain of acid reflux. As a result treatment of sleep apnea appears to improve acid reflux and vice versa.
  • Obesity. The addition of weight raises the risk of sleep apnea, while losing weight can help cure sleep apnea.

What is the financial burden of sleep apnea?

Sleep loss and sleep apnea affect an individual’s performance, safety and quality of life.  Almost 20 percent of all serious car crash injuries happen because of driver sleepiness, independent of alcohol. Additionally, sleep loss and sleep disorders have a significant economic impact. The high costs of untreated sleep apnea are far more costly than what happens when delivering adequate treatments.

Each year, we are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on direct medical costs associated with doctor visits, hospital services, prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs.  When compared to healthy individuals, those who suffer from sleep loss and sleep disorders are less productive. These individuals also experience an increased health care utilization and an increased likelihood of accidents.

It is important to treat sleep apnea as a dentist. If you treat sleep apnea, you can help to improve your patients’ overall health and well-being.