Can a Dentist Diagnose Sleep Apnea?

Are you looking for information on sleep apnea? One of the great things about visiting your dentist regularly is that they are able to spot changes to your overall health that you may not even realize. This can even include changes outside of your dental health, such as sleep apnea.

Most people in the United States see their dentist more frequently than their primary care provider, which gives dentists a leg up when it comes to screening and diagnosis. While sleep apnea must be formally diagnosed by a physician, your dentist can help you recognize the symptoms so that you can consult with your primary care provider to come to a formal diagnosis.

What is sleep apnea?

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, sleep apnea is a condition where the upper airway becomes blocked repeatedly during sleep, reducing or completely stopping airflow. People who have untreated sleep apnea can repeatedly stop breathing during their sleep, sometimes up to hundreds of times in a single night, which means that the brain and rest of the body is likely not getting enough oxygen during these times.

A surprising statistic is that it is estimated that there are more than 18 million people suffering from sleep apnea in the United States alone. Of those 18 million, experts estimate that less than 10 percent have been diagnosed. So how can you tell if you may have sleep apnea? There are several symptoms to keep an eye out for.

Symptoms of sleep apnea

Some of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Choking or gasping sounds
  • Insomnia, or waking up frequently
  • A feeling of sleepiness or fogginess during the day
  • Waking up with a sore, dry, or scratchy throat
  • Morning headaches

One thing to keep in mind is that not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. However, if your snoring is followed by pauses in your breathing or choking and gasping upon waking, your snoring may actually be sleep apnea.

How can your dentist help?

Your dentist can play a huge role in recognizing and treating sleep apnea. Many dentists are trained to look for signs of sleep apnea and can tell you if or when to visit your primary care provider to discuss the diagnosis of sleep apnea.

In terms of treatment, dentists can be a very valuable part of your care team. One of the most recommended therapies for mild to moderate sleep apnea is a dental appliance. Most dental appliances for sleep apnea are called mandibular advancement devices (MADs) and look like a regular mouthguard or retainer.

Mandibular advancement devices work by pushing the lower jaw and tongue forward slightly. This helps keep the tongue and muscles in your throat from collapsing over and obstructing your airway.

The bottom line

While dentists are not permitted to diagnose sleep apnea, that does not mean that they should not be screening for and helping to treat sleep apnea. Although a formal diagnosis of sleep apnea should be done at a sleep center, your doctor may refer you back to your dentist for treatment.

Request an appointment here: or call Old Alabama Dental Care at (770) 475-0604 for an appointment in our Alpharetta office.

Check out what others are saying about our dental services on Yelp: Do I Have Sleep Apnea.

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