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Rick Shapiro
Rick Shapiro
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Who knew that a dentist could help you discover sleep apnea?

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If you're tired of your significant other elbowing you in the middle of the night, pinching your nose closed as you snore, glaring at you over breakfast, or if you're just plain tired, you may want to ask your dentist if you grind your teeth. If so, you may be suffering from sleep apnea, according to dentist Mark Burhenne, who founded AsktheDentist.com.

Failures to detect medical conditions are not always, and perhaps not even often instances of medical malpractice. We have to be our own best advocates and not be afraid to question our medical providers. Having said that, it is worthwhile to ask your dentist, perhaps an unlikely source of information on sleep apnea, if he or she believes that you have a problem that should be addressed.

"Recent studies have shown that teeth grinding, also called bruxism, is a major indicator for obstructive sleep apnea," Dr. Burhenne writes for CNN. "The key word is "obstructive" — the thing 'obstructing' the airway being the jaw, which falls back as the brain approaches the deepest stages of sleep and the muscles of the airway fully relax." The sleeping person begins to snore when the airway becomes blocked. "Once the brain senses that breathing is dangerously compromised, it gets out of the deepest stage of sleep to regain control of the jaw muscles and reopen the airway, and keep you alive and breathing," according to Burhenne. Grinding, or bruxism, is one way this manifests. The result of that? Sore jaws, clicking jaws, worn-down front teeth, sensitive teeth, gum recession, headaches, or earaches. Worse, untreated sleep apnea could lead to Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, weight gain, depression, mood swings, or a weakened immune system.

If you already suffer from depression and are taking medication to manage it, that drug may be causing the bruxism as it stimulates the brain, states YourDentistryGuide.com. Once your dentist determines that you grind your teeth, he or she may recommend a number of treatments, including a bite plate, orthodontic surgery, yoga for stress reduction, or even Botox to relax the jaw muscles. "People who are diagnosed and treated for sleep apnea often report that the process has given them their life back," Burhenne writes. "Quality of sleep affects most of the things that help us enjoy life: appearance, well-being, outlook on life, energy level, patience, ability to cope with stress and how we interact with loved ones."

About the Editors: The Shapiro Lewis Appleton & Favaloro personal injury law firm, whose attorneys work out of offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, Eastern Shore Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service.