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How to Educate Patients: A Dentist's Role in Treating Sleep Apnea

As our understanding of Dentistry’s role in whole health advances, we have increasingly meaningful conversations with our patients and community. One of my patients is a wonderful physical therapist, who is strongly committed to educating her patients about whole health subjects, including oral health. She has asked me to write several articles for her practice newsletter.

This month we discussed obstructive sleep apnea and systemic inflammation. Below is how we explain a complicated subject as simply as possible, communicating the role of the dental team in whole health.

Perhaps you have opportunities in your community, through your patients and medical colleagues, to get the word out, about Complete Dentistry from TMJ to smile design, and from sleep apnea to systemic inflammation!

If You Snoozzzze...You May Lose!

We’re all familiar with “the elbow”.That’s what a woman uses to kick her man out of bed when he snores like a freight train! In fact, the average bed partner loses nearly one hour of sleep every night. As it turns out, loud snoring may be an indicator of a much greater problem.

We all share the common goals of good health, high energy, vitality, and slowing the aging process. Recent scientific research shows that a high percentage of the medical concerns that negatively affect our health are related to one common factor: chronic inflammation. Inflammation is a response of our bodies to insults and injuries. Controlling the multiple sources of chronic inflammation is key to enjoying our health goals.

Sleep apnea is a common inflammatory disorder that is caused by breathing problems during sleep. It can be asssociated with several possible signs which may include loud snoring, breathing stoppage (apnea), gasping for breath during sleep, daytime sleepiness, poor concentration, depression, high blood pressure, gastric reflux, heartburn, cardiac arrythmia, type 2 diabetes, weight gain, heart attacks, strokes, and organ failure.

Sleep apnea produces a viscious cycle of events during sleep. Once asleep, the tongue and soft palate may fall to the back of the throat. Snoring is created by soft tissue vibration against the back of the partially blocked airway. Breathing may stop altogether if a sleep apnea event occurs. This will cause a drop in oxygen flow to the lungs, bloodstream, and organs. The brain, sensing this change, will stimulate the release of stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, into the bloodstream, causing the heart rate to increase. This leads to an unconscious arousal from sleep. Momentarily, breathing becomes normal again. But as deeper sleep is resumed, the cycle of snoring, sleep apnea, stress hormone release, heart stimulation, and arousal repeat throughout the night. This is a dangerous sleep pattern resulting in body-wide inflammation. Think of this inflammation as a smoldering “fire” spreading throughout the body.

Sleep apnea is one of the most serious causes of generalized inflammation, due to chronically high levels of stress hormones in the bloodstream. It is also one of the most frequently undiagnosed causes of systemic inflammation and chronic poor health.

Fortunately, sleep apnea can be easily screened, readily diagnosed, and effectively treated. Anyone who snores should be screened with a simple overnight home monitor.

In cases of snoring and mild to moderate sleep apnea, dental appliances have proven to be very effective in opening the airway. As a Dentist, I evaluate and treat many people for snoring and sleep apnea with both simplicity and effectiveness. I also work very closely with our local physicians who specialize in the multiple causes of sleep disordered breathing.

It’s high time to get couples back in the same bedroom by addressing “the elephant in the room”! It’s time to rekindle greater intimacy by extinguishing the fire of snoring and sleep apnea. If you or a loved one demonstrate any of the signs or symptoms described above, a screening evaluation is highly recommended. My team is readily available to assist you by simply contacting us for a complimentary 15 minute screening. 

Want to Learn How Your Dental Practice Can Treat Sleep Apnea?

Join me at the course, The Total Wellness Dental Practice, and learn how you can educate, screen and diagnose obstructive sleep disorder and other risk factors of systemic inflammation. 

Dr. DeWitt “Witt” Wilkerson graduated from the University of Florida College of Dentistry in 1982, the same year he joined the Dawson private practice group in St. Petersburg, Florida. Witt is currently a Senior Faculty member and Director of Dental Medicine at The Dawson Academy. He is Past President of the American Equilibration Society(AES). Witt currently serves as President of the American Academy for Oral-Systemic Health(AAOSH), and is an Adjunct Professor in the Graduate Program at the University of Florida College of Dentistry. He has formerly served as an Associate Faculty Member and Special Lecturer at the L.D. Pankey Institute. Dr. Wilkerson lectures both nationally and internationally on the subjects of Restorative Dentistry, Dental Occlusion, TM Disorders, Airway/Dental Sleep Medicine, and Integrative Dental Medicine.