Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Dentistry

Sleep Dentistry: Parents and child sleeping

Alongside a healthy diet and regular exercise, a good night’s sleep is central to a healthy lifestyle. Sleep allows both the body and the brain to recover, rejuvenate and grow. Children and adults who suffer from sleep disorders feel the affect in every aspect of their lives – from mood, to performance at work or school performance, and even weight control.

Sleep Dentistry: Parents and child sleepingObstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has devastating affects on sleep patterns and can have deadly consequences. It is generally thought that around 9% of Australian women suffer from OSA, while a quarter of Australian men are afflicted by this disorder. What’s even more frightening is that even mild OSA results in a 2.5% increase in mortality rate.

While OSA has often been associated with middle-aged overweight men who snore loudly, young children can also be affected and feel the affects of OSA. OSA can result in a 20-point drop in IQ in children and increase a child’s chance of developing ADHD fivefold.

The repeated cessation of breathing during sleep depletes the amount of oxygen the body and brain receives, while the frequent awakening prevents the child from getting the restful night’s sleep that is vital during the development stages. However, diagnosis of OSA during childhood increases the chance of creating an effective treatment and diagnosis during adulthood can reverse the chances of early mortality.

The Role of Dentists in Sleep Apnea: Diagnosis

Dentists have an important role to play in diagnosing and treating sleep apnea. While the usual symptoms such as snoring and fatigue during the daytime may not be apparent to a dentist, the physiological signs of sleep apnea will be.

Dentists are well trained and educated in the initial signs and symptoms of OSA. These symptoms include a lack of room behind the tongue and a red, enlarged uvula, both of which can be easily detected during a routine dental examination.

While these may be signs of an excessive snorer who does not suffer from OSA, it always better to undertake some further tests to make sure, particularly given the variety of side effects that OSA can cause. Undertaking further tests on children is especially important, as it is critical to address the issue in order to give them the best chance of a healthy development.

If Dr Anna notices any signs of OSA, then he will perform a few simple procedures to better inform his diagnosis.

A thorough sleep study analysis would include:

  • Measuring oxygen saturation: reduced oxygen levels are often present in sufferers of OSA.
  • Taking your blood pressure: hypertension is a by-product of OSA.
  • Completing the Epworth Sleepiness Scale with you: this world standard questionnaire asks patients to note when and why they become fatigued during an average day.
  • Measuring the circumference of your neck: a circumference of more than 38 centimetres in women and 43 centimetres in men are signs of an increased risk of OSA.

The Role of Dentists in Sleep Apnea: Treatment

Dentists not only have a part to play in diagnosing OSA, they can also play a part in treating OSA, especially in children. Oral appliances, or Mandibular Repositioning Appliances can be fitted in both adults and children and work to bring the jaw forward and open up the airway. This treatment isn’t as effective in adults (where a CPAP machine is the best course of treatment) but it is still used in mild to moderate cases of OSA for patients who can’t use a CPAP machine. In severe cases surgery, known, as ‘bi-max advancement’ is necessary in adults to reposition the jaw. This is major surgery and is often a last resort.

If OSA is detected early in childhood, an oral appliance can be incredibly effective in treating sleep apnea. Children’s jaws are easy to mould, which means that the use of an oral appliance can change the position of their jaw and assist in curbing the OSA.

There may be some side effects at the beginning of treatment, such as pain at the joint or back of the jaw, sore teeth and saliva build up but these will subside soon after repeated use. It is important that a dentist fits these appliances, as over-the-counter options are not near as effective. It is also important that children (and adults) who are using an oral appliance get their teeth checked regularly as tooth movement, changes in bite and problems in the muscles and the joints of the jaw can occur. If these affects are picked up early, they can be treated very easily and the benefits of reversing the affects of sleep apnea far outweigh the possible side effects of treatment.

Dentists can play a major role in restoring a restful and often life-saving night’s sleep to both children and adults. An OSA diagnosis and treatment can improve a child’s learning abilities and allow an adult to perform better at work, while helping to ensure a long and healthy life.


If you’re worried that you might suffer from sleep apnea, then contacting Care Dental Camberwell to make an appointment today. You can:

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