How Your Dentist Can Help Your Heart

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By Andrew Swiatowicz, D.D.S

February is American Heart Month. Heart disease is responsible for 1 in every 4 deaths each year, and disproportionately affects women and African Americans (something that should not be overlooked during Black History month). Most people know that heart disease can be caused by high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle. What you may not know is that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), is linked to, and worsens, many heart problems.

OSA is a serious medical condition that occurs when a person’s airway is physically blocked. This prevents them from breathing while they sleep, usually causing them to wake up. This lack of oxygen and constant awakening puts a huge strain on the cardiovascular system. Here are just a few ways that OSA can hurt your heart.

Hypertension

About half of all patients with high blood pressure also suffer from OSA. Blood pressure medications are less effective in people with untreated OSA, making it harder to get your blood pressure under control.

Atrial Fibrillation (Afib)

OSA is an important, and often overlooked risk factor for Afib (a type of irregular heart beat). The risk of Afib is four times higher with severe OSA. It also makes it more difficult to control Afib with medications and surgeries. Afib can then lead to other cardiac issues, including stroke.

Stroke

Speaking of strokes, the worse the OSA, the greater the risk of suffering one. OSA patients who experience a stroke have a worse prognosis and longer time recovering. Because OSA and stroke are so closely related, it is recommended that every patient suffering from a stroke should be screened and tested for OSA.

Heart Failure

OSA puts a tremendous strain on the heart. It makes the heart work harder, less efficiently, and with less oxygen. Eventually the heart will not be able to take the stress. In fact, having OSA increases the risk of heart failure by 140%.

People who suffer from OSA tend to die sooner, and it is usually because of these cardiovascular issues. The longest running study we have on sleep and health, the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort, shows us that people with OSA have a reduced life expectancy of almost 7 years!

What Can Be Done?

The great news is that with early diagnosis and treatment, the harmful effects on the heart can be decreased. Treatment will help to reduce the risk and recurrence of Afib and stroke, make your high blood pressure easier to control, and improve your heart function.

While CPAP is the gold standard of treatment, some studies show that over 80% of people stop wearing it. Luckily there are other options available to patients. The best alternative is having a dentist trained in sleep medicine make an oral appliance. This device holds the jaw forward while you sleep, keeping your airway open.

The question of course is, do oral appliances work to treat OSA? And the answer is YES! We know that patients are more likely to continue wearing oral appliances, which means they are actually sleeping better and getting healthier. A landmark 2014 article in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine stated that “the findings of subjective and objective health outcomes are not in favor of CPAP with improvements generally equivalent between (both) treatments.” What that means is, in real world usage, CPAP and oral appliances are equally effective. And in terms of heart health, long term studies show cardiovascular mortality rates decreased regardless of treatment. Just a note with this study…it was done by medical doctors, NOT dentists!

So this February, make an appointment with Delaware Dental Sleep Medicine. We can help you sleep better, get healthier, and keep your heart beating the way it should! For more information or to schedule a consultation, call 302-384-7801 or visit  www.SleepBetterDelaware.com.

Bio

Dr. Swiatowicz is a Diplomate of the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine. His practice focuses on the treatment of sleep disordered breathing and craniofacial pain in children and adults. He works closely with a team of healthcare professionals to get you breathing and sleeping better.

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