Staying Alert on Sleep Disorders

Coaching Corner

Sleep disorders are a widespread and growing issue in dentistry. Recently, Heartland Dental offered a course to educate affiliated dentists on the topic. Sleep disorders can affect the way people breathe while sleeping, often leading to frequent, loud snoring. Although snoring may not be considered life threatening, sleep issues can be serious health disorders.

Characterized by interruptions in breathing that usually last 10 to 20 seconds each and can occur up to hundreds of times per night, obstructive sleep issues are reported to affect as many as 18 million Americans, according to the National Sleep Foundation. These interruptions are caused when the soft tissue in the back of the throat relaxes while someone sleeps. Typically more prevalent in males, smokers and the elderly, sleep disorders can also cause a wide range of problems from sleep disturbance to more serious health issues, such as sleep deprivation, poor concentration, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

You may wonder where dentistry comes into play. Since dentists are one of the most visited health care providers by patients, they are typically the first ones to discover the signs of the condition. Once these signs are discovered, dentists can recommend further evaluation from a physician.

Sleep Disorders

Once the disorder is diagnosed by a physician, obstructive sleep disorder may be treated and controlled using oral appliances. Some of these devices are acrylic and fit inside the mouth like an athletic mouthguard. Others, such as a mandibular repositioner and a tongue retaining device, are worn over the head and chin, which helps adjust the position of the jaw and tongue so that airways remain open.

In conjunction with an exam, dentists can detect less obvious signs of sleep problems simply by talking with patients about their symptoms. Patients dealing with sleep lethargy, morning headaches, insomnia, depression or dry mouth (typically caused by open mouth breathing during sleep) may be suffering from a sleep issue.

However, before treatment can be offered, a professional sleep screening must confirm the diagnosis. A medical doctor can interpret the sleep study and make recommendations based on the individual needs of patients.

As more information is learned about sleep disorders and the damaging effects, it becomes more important for dentists to stay educated on this topic. Because sleep issues can be a silent condition, it can go undiagnosed for many years. As one of the most visited care providers, dentists must be able to spot the symptoms accurately and recommend further evaluation.

Samson Liu, DDS, MAGD

Samson Liu, DDS, MAGD, Vice President of Clinical Affairs at Heartland Dental and full-time practicing dentist at in Wildwood, Missouri.

Since graduating dental school and the start of his career at Heartland Dental, Dr. Liu's practice has grown to a 12-chair office.