Screening and diagnosis of sleep breathing disorders—including snoring and mild-to-moderate sleep apnea—involve initial questions and specific diagnostic testing. Dentists like Todd Fincher, DDS, who have been trained in dental sleep medicine, screen patients for sleep breathing disorders. Dr. Fincher then works in consultation with sleep physician specialists at Greenwood Leflore Hospital Sleep Disorders Center to conduct a sleep study, determine your specific sleep breathing disorder diagnosis, and choose a type of treatment that’s best for you.
During your regular dental visit, it’s possible that Dr. Fincher may find tell-tale signs of potential sleep breathing disorders like snoring or mild-to-moderate sleep apnea by visually examining your mouth, tongue, and throat. These signs may include a severely enlarged tongue, a narrow lower jaw, enlarged tonsils, and large uvula (dangling tissue at the back of the mouth/throat).
Dr. Fincher may also identify signs of sleep breathing disorders by examining x-rays taken during your regular appointments. These signs may include a disproportionate amount of space between your tongue and soft palate, or your jaws and the back of your neck.
When a sleep breathing disorder is suspected, Dr. Fincher will likely ask you specific questions that will help determine if further diagnostic testing for sleep breathing disorders is needed. In particular, he will likely ask you the following questions. Answering “yes” to two or more questions could possibly mean that you are at risk for a sleep breathing disorder such as sleep apnea.
Currently the only ways to diagnose moderate-to-severe sleep breathing disorders such as sleep apnea are using either an overnight sleep study at healthcare facilities like Greenwood Leflore Hospital Sleep Disorders Center, or using a home sleep test.
Overnight sleep studies (called polysomnography) are used to diagnose sleep breathing disorders. They are typically conducted at a hospital, medical center, or medical laboratory facility. For the first 1 to 2 hours after you arrive, you’ll be introduced to the facility and hooked up to approximately 25 or more wires and sensors that monitor and record your breathing, oxygen levels, heart rate, airflow, and other movements/functions. While you sleep, a computer records all of the data from all of the sensors, and a sleep technician is always present to monitor the your sleep activity and the information displayed on the computer monitor.
Although overnight sleep studies are considered the most accurate way to diagnose patients with sleep breathing disorders, many patients find the expense, time, and uncomfortable wire and sensors intolerable. As a result, portable at-home sleep studies are being used more often.
Portable at-home sleep breathing disorder study devices are a simpler and less complicated way to screen and diagnose patients with sleep breathing disorders, and many people find them easy to tolerate. These devices typically require less monitoring, yet have been proven to be specific and accurate in identifying patients with sleep apnea.
You’ll receive instructions about how to use the monitoring equipment at home, which includes a device to measure airflow and a blood oxygen monitoring device. You’ll sleep while wearing the device for 1 to 2 nights, and then return it to their doctor. Information about your blood oxygen levels and airflow are transferred from the device, analyzed, and may indicate apnea.