More and more people are being diagnosed with sleeping disorders recently, but is it due to a new health scare or better understanding and detection? The answer isn’t so simple, and it’s a little bit of both. What people previously perceived as an annoying habit of snoring can actually be a major cause for concern regarding someone’s health. Snoring and other irregular breathing patterns during sleep also doesn’t just affect the person with a potential sleep disorder. It can cause harm to their partners and other family members in a shared home.
Why are Sleep Disorders on the Rise?
The answer as to why more and more people are being diagnosed with sleeping disorders is multi-faceted. The first reason is that obesity rates in America are higher than ever, from children to adults. Being overweight or obese can significantly increase one’s risk of developing a sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea, along with other conditions like hypertension, heart arrhythmia, high blood pressure, abnormal lung function, and stroke. These are all serious and potentially fatal diseases that are preventable and treatable.
The other reason we see an influx of sleep disorder diagnoses is due to screening. Snoring is no longer seen as merely an annoying habit or quirk but a sign of a potentially serious medical issue. Physicians and other medical professionals are becoming more aware of signs and characteristics to identify those who may carry the risk.
How Do Dentists Help?
As we’ve begun to research and understand these sleeping disorders more deeply, there have been effective screening measures outlined that can be used by various medical professionals across different fields, especially dentistry. While dentists can’t officially diagnose sleeping disorders, they’ve become a useful tool in screening for them.
Most Americans see their dentist more than they see their general practitioner or family doctor, making dental professionals crucial in spotting signs of obstructive sleep apnea while examining patients’ mouths. Asking patients about daytime sleepiness, snoring, mood irregularity, and trouble breathing are all becoming commonplace for dental checkups. Dentists can also examine the mouth physically and spot signs of abnormalities in the tissues in the back of the throat, contributing to snoring and eventual obstructive sleep apnea.
Is there a Sleep Apnea Crisis?
Many experts in medical fields call the rise in diagnosis of sleep apnea an “epidemic”; however, others will say it’s merely a trend in discovering new and pertinent bodily health information. With CPAP machines being prescribed at an increasing rate to those with obstructive sleep apnea, there’s still cause for concern. Nevertheless, we must focus on the risk factors that cause sleeping disorders rather than focus solely on their treatment.
Most people with sleep apnea are not vocal about their disorder or don’t speak of it openly or often. This affects the spreading of awareness of these conditions among family, friends, and loved ones. Most patients claim that they became aware of their sleep disorders only after speaking to someone they knew who had recently been diagnosed, making the dialogue about these conditions essential to everyone’s overall health.
Increase in Sleep Disorder Cases
The awareness of sleep disorders among medical professionals and increased screenings is behind the overarching spike in patients’ diagnosis across the board. Dental sleep medicine is a developing field now that more focus has been put on these conditions, and their severity has proven to be serious. Dentists provide very critical roles in helping spot, identify, and screen obstructive apnea instances, along with having essential referrals to specialists on hand for patients who need further assistance.
For mild to moderate sleep apnea cases, patients who initially discovered their diagnosis during a screening with a dentist may end up back at their dentist’s office even after seeing a sleep specialist. That’s because a dentist can craft and provide mandibular advancement devices (MAD), also known as oral appliances (OA), to help with sleep disorders. These various devices are alternatives to CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines that have an ever-increasing patient non-compliance and are much more comfortable for patients to handle and wear every night.
Oral Appliances vs. CPAP
The reasons oral appliances are not yet as popular as CPAP machines are mainly due to patient compliance and source of diagnosis. Those who are screened for a sleeping disorder are more likely to be prescribed a CPAP machine by a sleep specialist because they are statistically most effective. However, their effectiveness largely depends on the patient’s compliance in wearing the mask and maintaining the device, which has been decreasing among those with sleeping disorders.
Oral devices aren’t as popular for sleep apnea among those with mild to moderate cases, but they are on the rise as people with the condition are becoming less likely to wear their CPAP machines at night. This is causing dentists to look deeper into making these appliances better and more comfortable to offer more patients with the condition options for treatment. Though they may not work on everyone, further research can make them more effective; the more people can be fitted to have them work correctly to relieve obstructive sleep apnea symptoms.
The future of dental sleep medicine is evolving as the country is seeing more and more need for such a specialty. Along with companies that work with 3d printing and modeling, technology can be improved infinitely to make obstructive sleep apnea a condition that is more easily treated without invasive or disruptive measures and devices. Screenings for sleep disorders during dental checkups along with referrals to sleep specialists, for the time being, will help further the relationship between the two medical fields to create a more comprehensive specialty of dental sleep medicine, which will further help thousands of Americans who are at high risk of obstructive sleep apnea and other related comorbidities.