When looking for further information on obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and its connection with other conditions, there is a lot to search through. As we frequently talk to our patients about the risks for developing further health complications, it is important to understand the research behind these connections.

A main health concern that sleep professionals need to remain vigilant about is cardiovascular disease. As you know, heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, while stroke is the fifth leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is also a leading cause of disability with high blood pressure being a major risk in both conditions.

The relationship between sleep apnea, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease is extremely strong, which makes it vital that we ensure our patients understand this connection and seek treatment immediately.

San Diego Researchers Find Possible Link in Microbiome

At the University of California (UC) San Diego, a research team uncovered a possible link between sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease. This team includes Anupriya Tripathi, a biological sciences graduate student, and School of Medicine professor of pediatrics Gabriel Haddad, MD.

Their study states that 12% of the US adult population has OSA. As the result of an intermittent airway collapse, the body is exposed to low oxygen and high carbon dioxide conditions. It also explained that people with the condition are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease down the road.

What scientists don’t understand is why exposure to low oxygen and high carbon dioxide might lead to cardiovascular disease. Researchers looked at the gut microbiome for answers. They found that more than 10% of gut microbiota composition in mice with simulated OSA had shifted compared to control mice kept in room air, with most prominent changes in Clostridia, a modifier of bile acids.

The link between OSA and gut microbes was previously unrecognized. This link suggests that microbiota and their metabolites are potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of cardiovascular consequences of patients with OSA. While the research has not finished, Tripathi said in the UC San Diego News Center that she is excited to look further into these observations because the potential for discovering diagnostic and therapeutic targets is promising.

Mayoor Patel, DDS, MS

Mayoor Patel, DDS, MS

What Can Dentists Do?

There’s a lot you can do to help your patients. One is to provide them with the education they need to better understand sleep apnea and the potential harmful links to other conditions, such as cardiovascular disease.

Another is to educate yourself and your team. By better understanding the signs and symptoms, you can identify patients who might be suffering from sleep apnea but are unaware. Attend continuing education courses not only for yourself, but your team as well so that your practice can provide the best care possible. The more you know the better it is for your patients. And once you are educated on sleep apnea and the harmful conditions linked to it, you can provide the care your patients need to get a better night’s sleep and live a healthier life.

While the research is ongoing, we can still keep this in mind when it comes to our patients with OSA.

Mayoor Patel, DDS, MS, is the owner of Atlanta’s Craniofacial Pain and Dental Sleep Center of Georgia.