It’s estimated that 858,900 Canadian adults have been diagnosed with sleep apnea: a chronic condition that causes obstructed breathing sporadically throughout one’s sleep cycle. Without treatment, this condition can lead to serious complications and long-term health effects.
Recently, a cross-sectional study found that women were at higher risk of cancer when suffering from sleep apnea. Specifically, the prevalence of cancer is higher in women with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and nocturnal hypoxia than in men with the same condition.
Fortunately, there are a variety of ways dental professionals can play a role in diagnosing, treating and helping patients mitigate the risks of sleep apnea.
Here, we’ll delve deeper into the research and review the role dentists and dental hygienists can play in helping patients with sleep apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Cancer Risk and Other Health Complications
There is growing evidence to suggest a potential association between obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) and cancer. Last year, researchers reviewed data on 20,000 adult patients with OSA from the European Sleep Apnoea Database (ESADA). Approximately 2% of these patients had a cancer diagnosis.
The findings of this review suggest that the prevalence of cancer was higher in females with OSA and nocturnal hypoxia, but not in males. This conclusion was drawn after adjusting the data for age, gender, body mass index, smoking, and alcohol consumption.
This new study highlights just one of the many adverse impacts of sleep apnea on one’s health. In addition to the potential link between OSA and cancer, adults living with untreated sleep apnea are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
There is also a discernable link between sleep apnea, strokes, and obesity, and chronic fatigue resulting from sleep apnea can increase the risk of these individuals being involved in motor vehicle accidents.
How Dental Professionals Can Help Patients with Sleep Apnea
So, how does this relate to our roles in the dental profession?
Although dental professionals are not able to diagnose patients with sleep apnea (diagnosis should be done at an accredited sleep center), dentists and dental hygienists can help screen patients for potential symptoms, guide them towards a proper diagnosis, and in some cases provide treatment to offset the effects of the condition.
Most people see their dentist or dental hygienist more often than their doctor, and the first signs of sleep apnea are frequently those found in the oral cavity.
For example, an enlarged tongue and/or tonsils, GERD, and tooth grinding/bruxism are telltale red flags for untreated sleep apnea. Upon discovering these indicators, dental professionals can interview the patient to screen for other potential sleep apnea symptoms.
Patients showing symptoms of this condition should be referred to their family physician. From there, a review of a patient’s overall medical history can occur to rule out the presence of sleep apnea.
After receiving the necessary request or prescription, a dental professional can provide orthodontic assistance (OA).