Dentists are very familiar with the oral cavity. It is the number one thing we do. We look at the teeth, and we look at the mouth. A common misconception is that a dentist only focuses on a patient’s teeth. As important as teeth are to us in our profession, dentists also evaluate one’s airway. When a dentist is looking at your teeth, they also actually take a peek at your throat. They look at your tongue size, and they look at your overall airway.
A dentist does not actually diagnose a patient with oral sleep apnea. However, they see warning signs. Oftentimes we have our patients fill out a questionnaire where we ask them whether they snore, or if they find that they wake up very, very tired in the morning despite having slept many hours.
The dentist works very closely with a physician. This is a board-certified medical physician who specializes in sleep apnea. Now, that patient will see both this physician and the dentist, and together they work to evaluate, and they have a patient do a take-home or an in-lab sleep study. You’ve probably seen this in TV shows or movies, where somebody goes in and they’re sleeping in a scary-looking lab, on a table. The reality is that you can actually take this test at home.
The number one way to really effectively treat sleep apnea is by opening the airway. There is a device called a CPAP device, which is provides positive airway pressure. It is a mask. It can be very overwhelming for some people.
There is an alternative to the CPAP device for patients who can not tolerate it. It is called an oral appliance, which is something that the dentist would make for somebody. Although a dentist does not specifically diagnose the sleep apnea, they do treat sleep apnea by developing these devices. It is very similar to a sports guard or a night guard, often used by patients who grind their teeth at night. It looks like a sports guard, but this is called an oral appliance.
I always tell my patients, “If you can use a CPAP device, and it allows you to breathe well and get a good night’s rest, and you wear it every single night, then that’s great. But if you’re the type of person that you’ve been recommended to wear a CPAP, but you just don’t like how big it is, maybe your significant other doesn’t like looking at you while you’re wearing it at night, then an oral appliance is definitely something that will help you out.” As your dentist, I can provide you with that.
Dr. McKeever has been in private practice in Pompton Plains, New Jersey since 1988. He provides the highest quality of general, cosmetic and implant dentistry and treats each patient uniquely according to their individual needs. Dr. Darren McKeever and the team at McKeever Dental Care can be reached at (973) 839-8180 and is located at 933 NJ-23 Pompton Plains, NJ 07444.