Author: Mayoor Patel, DDS, MS
November was diabetes awareness month, which is why I think it is important to continue the conversation. While each month is used to raise awareness for a different health condition, I think it is a great opportunity to keep this information fresh in our patients’ minds. Here are some statistics to keep in mind when you are treating patients that suffer from sleep apnea and diabetes.
This year there has been a shift in focus on what is called prediabetes. One in three adults has prediabetes and 90 percent don’t even know it. By identifying prediabetes in patients, they can take the necessary steps toward preventing type 2 diabetes. In turn that has the potential to slow the rapidly growing epidemic of type 2 diabetes and hopefully also minimize sleep apnea symptoms or even eliminate the condition as a whole.
In fact, among the 84 million people who have prediabetes, there will be 15 to 30 percent that develop type 2 diabetes in the next five years. This is why we need to continue to educate our patients whether they have sleep apnea or not. However, if a patient does have sleep apnea it will increase their risk for type 2 diabetes, which gives us even more reason to be mindful of our patients’ health and wellbeing.
What is the link between sleep apnea and diabetes?
We are aware that weight gain, lack of exercise and poor diet can all lead to type 2 diabetes, but researchers have now added another key risk factor that can increase the odds of developing this disorder and that is sleep apnea. It might come as a surprise to many of the growing number of Americans who suffer from sleep apnea, but don’t realize the link with diabetes.
Undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea may cause or worsen both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. This is why it is so important for patients with diabetes to be screened for sleep apnea. Research studies already make the link while the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American College of Endocrinology recommend screening for sleep apnea in patients with diabetes. However, many health care providers still don’t make the connection, which can be detrimental to our patients’ health.
Why are they correlated?
Interrupted sleep that occurs when a patient suffers from sleep apnea, can cause increased stress on the body and make it harder to keep blood sugar levels under control. Excess weight around the neck in patients with type 2 diabetes can also obstruct the airway during sleep, which causes stopping and starting of breathing repeatedly.
These abnormal breathing patterns can increase blood glucose levels that promote insulin resistance that underlies type 2 diabetes.
All of this information points to the need to better understand this link and ensure that dentists and other health care providers offer appropriate care for patients. Treatment of sleep apnea with an oral appliance can help to improve blood sugar control and hemoglobin A1C. This is just another reason continuing education is so important for dentists.