sleep apnea

Sleep dentistry really makes perfect sense, though it may seem odd to talk with your dentist about snoring or sleep apnea.  As your dentist, Dr. Meghan Stenvall will likely see you more often than your medical doctor. By looking in your mouth, she can see many signs of problems associated with sleep disorders; acid erosion of teeth due to acid reflux/heartburn, restricted airways, gag reflexes, crowded teeth, enlarged tongues, and more. Though Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT) can be just as effective in the treatment of snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, a Sleep Medicine doctor can only offer a CPAP or medications. While she cannot officially diagnose you with sleep apnea, Dr. Stenvall is in the perfect position to identify the problem.

Queen City Dental Arts (QCDA) plays a pivotal role in coordinating the physician’s diagnosis with the appropriate treatment. One benefit of using a dentist trained in sleep dentistry such as Dr. Stenvall, is that she has treatment options for patients not ready for or comfortable with a CPAP. QCDA will recommend options based upon your specific diagnosis from your Sleep Medicine doctor. If you do not have a Sleep Medicine doctor, Dr. Stenvall will refer you for a sleep test at Ballantyne Sleep Center. Treatments range from professional SnoreGuards to oral sleep appliances to a CPAP, or a combination of approaches.

Sleep Apnea vs. Snoring

REMEMBER, not all snorers have sleep apnea, and not all people with sleep apnea snore. You may have both, but not necessarily!

Sleep apnea causes patients to stop breathing for short periods during the night.  This is due to your airway being blocked, usually by relaxation of the throat muscles and the tongue falling backwards.  Other contributing factors could be adenoids, enlarged tonsils, nasal congestion, deviated nasal septums, and excess weight. Your airway could remain blocked for a few seconds or it could last for over a minute at a time. Blocked breathing lowers blood oxygen levels, therefore, the more frequently this happens, the greater the risk to your health. This increases your risk of many cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

When the soft palate and uvula (the little thing that hangs down at the back of your throat) vibrate from air flowing over them, that sound made is snoring. Snoring alone isn’t dangerous, but when combined with sleep apnea, it is!

Sleep Apnea Can Cause Serious Health Concerns

There is ample data showing a substantial correlation between sleep apnea left untreated and serious medical conditions and reduced life expectancy. In simplicity, obstructive sleep apnea deprives your body and brain of oxygen. Your heart and lungs must work much harder due to the decrease in blood oxygen levels, leading to cardiovascular and metabolic disorders. The earlier the diagnoses and treatment, no matter your age, the greater the long-term health improvements.

Possible Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

You should be evaluated for sleep apnea if you have any of the symptoms listed below. You are very likely to have OSA if you have multiple conditions listed below.

  • Grinding or clenching your teeth at night and/or during the day
  • Wake yourself up with snoring/gasps of breath
  • Rarely get even 7 hours of sleep
  • Frequently wake up during the night for any reason
  • Are tired during the day, even after 7-8 hours of sleep
  • Unable to function well in the morning until after some caffeinated drink
  • Feeling groggy and/or difficulty focusing
  • ADHD or similar symptoms
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease, such as congestive heart failure
  • Diabetes
  • Struggle to lose weight

How to Move Forward if You Have Sleep Apnea

Dr. Stenvall and her team will review with you the signs and symptoms of snoring and sleep apnea after a thorough evaluation. If risk factors are identified, we will refer you to a Board-certified sleep doctor. They will arrange the sleep test for you, either at home or in their office. Once all results are received, they will send a referral letter back to us with their recommendation. Our team will take the necessary records and have a custom-fit, precision oral appliance made by our lab. Should you already have a sleep doctor with test results, our office will contact your physician for the necessary information.


CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure)

The prescribed treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is traditionally CPAP therapy. The patient sleeps with a face mask connected to a constantly running machine by tubing. A CPAP is an effective treatment, however your dentist can provide an alternate solution with oral appliance therapy.

OAT (Oral Appliance Therapy)

OAT is a non-invasive, effective treatment option for snoring and OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea) that is easy and convenient. You wear a dental oral appliance, similar to a sports mouth guard, during sleep. This places the jaw in a forward position to provide an open upper airway, helping to prevent snoring and sleep apnea.

This appliance is made of 2 parts: 1 for the upper teeth and 1 for the lower teeth. Depending on the appliance you need, there will be different attachments to position your jaw correctly. Since the tongue is attached to the lower jaw, moving the jaw position forward will allow your tongue to remain more forward; preventing the tongue from falling back and blocking the airway. Patients like the Oral Appliance Therapy compared to CPAP because it’s quiet, portable, convenient for travel, comfortable, easy to wear, and easy to clean.

Where to begin?

Dr. Stenvall will communicate closely with your Sleep Medicine doctor. She will discuss with you, in detail, the risks of sleep apnea and treatment benefits. Dr. Stenvall and her staff will review the potential side effects of Oral Appliance Therapy and the cost of treatment.  She will perform a comprehensive clinical examination, possibly including an X-ray of your mouth and jaw.

Now What?

QCDA will schedule follow-up visits in order to make adjustments for ongoing comfort and effectiveness. Dr. Stenvall requests you bring your OAT to all routine dental appointments and recommends an OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea) evaluation annually. Proper home care is vital for the longevity of the appliance; normal expectancy is 5-7 years.

When treating OSA with oral appliance therapy, your symptoms and your quality of life can improve, if you stay committed to using it nightly. It is probable that you will have more energy, feel sharper during the day and sleep better at night. Treating sleep apnea promotes a healthier heart, body, and mind.

With the help of Dr. Stenvall and QCDA, you can improve your health by improving your sleep!