Sleep apnoea — difficulty breathing while asleep — has been linked to memory problems, depression, high blood pressure and strain on the heart as the vital organs are starved of oxygen. And don’t forget, partners lose out on sleep too.

It’s an underestimated problem that many people aren’t aware they suffer from, affecting a full quarter of the population. Recently published studies show that there is a direct relationship between teeth grinding (bruxism) and sleep apnoea, so dentists have become the first port of call for detection, diagnosis and treatment.

In patients suffering from snoring or sleep apnoea, rather than air entering and leaving through the airways normally there is a narrowing of the space between the palate and the tongue, which causes vibration when air passes through — this produces the snoring sound — and partial obstruction of the airway.

Sleep apnoea is when there is total obstruction of the airway and the space between the tongue and palate closes completely and prevents air from passing. When this happens the person will be completely starved of oxygen until they are forced to briefly wake up and change position, and if this happens through the night it makes for an exhausting night’s sleep, with serious implications for cognitive function, mood and general health.

Patients with mild and moderate apnoea can be diagnosed and treated in dental clinics using personalised splints. We use the APNiA® system which is the only one on the market that allows diagnosis and subsequent treatment.

The electronic device performs a sleep study to monitor oxygen levels in the blood, respiratory flow, heart rate, body position and snoring. Diagnosis software allows this data to be interpreted and an intraoral device is used to treat to the patient accordingly, opening the airway up in the appropriate way.

The device is comfortable and easy for the patient to put on at home, and it’s also useful for patients with severe apnoea who can’t tolerate treatment with a continuous positive airway pressure machine (which requires a mask to increase air pressure in the throat all night).