Craniosacral Airway Issues — Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea and Mouth Breathing by Specially Trained Dental Professionals
When things go wrong in the mouth and throat, the consequences will manifest themselves throughout the body. Breathing issues are often difficult to diagnose. The main reason for this is that people aren’t aware of what is actually causing the problem, they’re only aware of the symptoms. This puts dentists in a unique position to diagnose airway issues. A general practitioner may not have any reason to pay particular attention to your airway, whereas a dentist has far more opportunities to check up on it. Choosing a dentist trained to identify and diagnose airway issues could save you from a whole host of health issues that may otherwise go undiagnosed. Two issues of particular interest to highly trained and qualified dentists are sleep apnea and mouth breathing.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, over 18 million American adults suffer from sleep apnea to some degree. Sufferers of sleep apnea experience pauses in their breathing while asleep. These pauses may be as short as a couple of seconds or as long as a couple of minutes, and often occur many times in a single night. There are two types of sleep apnea – obstructive and central. Central sleep apnea (CSA) is caused by a failure in the body’s feedback mechanisms that control respiration. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused when the airway is partially or completely obstructed, typically by the tongue or the soft tissues of the throat. During sleep, muscles all over the body go into a state of deep relaxation. In the soft issues of the throat, this relaxation can be so deep that the airway temporarily collapses. The tongue also may move backwards, blocking the airway. Obstructive sleep apnea is far more common than central sleep apnea, although occasionally they will present together.
Untreated sleep apnea can damage overall health in a number of ways. It causes a drop in blood oxygen levels during the night, which disrupts the natural REM cycle of the sleeping brain. Sufferers of sleep apnea will feel the groggy, sluggish, and lack focus. It is even speculated that some childhood ADHD diagnoses are actually misdiagnosed sleep apnea. It can exacerbate cardiovascular disease, leading to heart attack or stroke. It can contribute to high blood pressure and cholesterol, depression, and even car accidents due to drowsiness. What’s more, it can do all this without the sufferer even being aware of the condition, as they typically will not wake during the apneas.
For severe cases of sleep apnea, the most common treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. In mild to moderate cases, an oral appliance may be enough to provide relief. There are also several surgical options available, most of which involve creating more space in the airway to keep it from closing.
All babies breathe through their noses. However, for a variety of reasons, people sometimes switch during development to breathing through their mouths. This causes a host of problems.
Contrary to what you might imagine, oxygen is absorbed during the exhale. A longer, slower exhale through the nose, and the back pressure it creates, allows for more effective oxygen absorption. For this reason, mouth breathers take up to twice as many breaths as nose breathers. Mouth breathing also causes dryness of the mouth and throat, contributes to gingivitis and degradation of enamel, and leads to inflamed tonsils, tonsil stones, and halitosis. As the mouth dries, the PH of saliva changes, which compounds the risk of getting cavities. In children, mouth breathing can cause malformation or misalignment of the mouth, jaw, and teeth, leading to a myriad of health problems later in life.
A Holistic Approach to Dentistry
Sleep apnea, mouth breathing, and Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD) are part of an interrelated web of cause and effect that governs our ability to eat, speak, and breathe. One cause can ripple out into many effects, and it takes a highly trained professional with a wide view to identify and treat these conditions. The graphic below shows some of the connections between these issues and others.
Generally speaking, dentists do not treat sleep apnea or mouth breathing. However, they are in a unique position to identify the signs, symptoms, and risk factors for both conditions. Choosing a dentist with the necessary training to detect these conditions could save your life.