Karen Williamson, DDS

BY MEREDITH KNIGHT

Why is a family dentist screening patients for breathing disorders? Why not? As your dentist goes about a routine checkup, they’re in prime position to notice signs of breathing disordered sleep (sleep apnea), which may be wreaking havoc on your health and wellbeing. Some of the symptoms a dentist might notice have to do with the position of the tongue at rest, the size and condition of the tonsils, excessive cavities, acid reflux erosion of the teeth, or the width of a patient’s jaw. In fact, their familiarity with their patients’ mouth and jaw positions enables them to detect any number of health concerns. A sleeping disorder is just one of them.

As of 2017, the American Dental Association called upon every general dentist to screen patients for sleep apnea, looking for and evaluating its warning signs. These screenings have been a part of Dr. Karen Williamson’s dental practice for over a decade. More recently, she’s become the only dentist in this area to invest in an advanced Acoustic Diagnostic Pharyngometer and Rhinometer to further fine-tune those screenings.

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

“The technology has been around for years and is widely used by ENTs and sleep disorder specialists,” Dr. Williamson said. “This device uses acoustic-reflection technology to accurately map the size, structure, and collapsibility of the oral and nasal airway. Just as a bat sends echo-vision to the back wall of the cave to gauge its size and shape, we use the pharyngometer and rhinometer to see whether your airway is collapsing (like a fireman’s hose) and where the collapse might be occurring.”

Custom Care

With this precise information, Dr. Williamson can design a custom medical oral device to treat a patient’s sleep apnea. “It takes the guesswork out of where to set the medical appliance,” she said. “It also helps us determine who can be helped with a medical oral device and who needs to use a CPAP. And, if we detect significant nose blockages, we can refer the patient to an ENT for more advanced treatment.”

As with any new technology, Dr. Williamson and her team tried it on themselves first. “We were surprised how non-invasive it is,” she said. “It never even enters your nose, and barely goes inside the mouth throughout the test process. Then, the data from the pharyngometer and rhinometer can be displayed on an easy-to-read graph, so the patient sees what we see.”

When the technology registers a collapse, Dr. Williamson can send the patient home with a sleep study. “Many patients are surprised to find they can perform the study in their own bed and don’t have to spend the night at a sleep study lab,” Dr. Williamson said. “Once the study is read by a sleep physician, we can determine whether we can help with a medical oral device or whether we’ll need to refer the patient to a specialist.” Untreated sleep apnea can also lead to hypertension, stroke, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the muscle tissue of the heart), heart failure, diabetes, and obesity.

Medical Signs of Sleep Apnea

The medical signs of sleep apnea are many and include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Acid Reflux (GERD) / persistent heartburn
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Past history of stroke
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • AFib
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Cancer
  • PTSD
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Diabetes
  • Headaches (migraines)
  • Snoring
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Frequently getting up to urinate at night
  • Night sweats
  • Clenching teeth
  • TMJ pain
  • Night terrors
  • Insomnia
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Arthritis
  • Esophageal reflux
  • Mouth breathing
  • Chronic sinusitis/allergies
  • Deviated septum
  • ADHD

Dental Signs of Sleep Apnea

Experienced dentists like Dr. Williamson have become familiar with other signs that manifest in the mouth which they detect during a routine checkup. Those include:

  • An open bite, crossbite, or deep overbite
  • A tongue that is creased, tethered, scalloped, or covering the lower teeth
  • Tonsils that are large, inflamed, or reddened
  • Tonsil stones
  • Red, inflamed tissue at the back of the throat
  • A gummy smile
  • Red gums
  • Teeth that are splayed, pitted, worn down, or leaning into the tongue
  • Acidic cavities or being “cavity prone” most of your life
  • Missing premolars
  • And more

One Patient’s Story

Chris W. was recommended to Dr. Williamson by his friend who is also a dentist. “As a new patient, I found Dr. Williamson and her staff very intentional and thorough with initial exams and getting to know me,” he said. “Dr. Williamson is very interested in her patients’ overall health and well-being and what the dental health can reveal about her patients.”

With Chris, Dr. Williamson quickly recognized he’d been grinding his teeth in his sleep for decades. She ordered a sleep study, which revealed that Chris was suffering from sleep apnea. She fit him for a corrective oral appliance and Chris reports his quality of sleep has improved significantly.

When you’re tired even some of the time, your mood, productivity, happiness, and overall health are impacted,” he said. “It can be a desperate feeling not knowing the cause much less the right solution. I’m incredibly grateful to Dr. Williamson and her staff for having a significant impact on me and my overall health. I’d recommend them to anyone.”

Meet Dr. Williamson

Dr. Williamson is a proud Rockwall resident. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree from Baylor University before graduating from Baylor College of Dentistry in 1990. She completed a one-year general practice residency program at the VA Medical Center in Dallas specializing in general dentistry, completed additional training at Children’s Hospital Dallas and Denton State School before opening her private general dentistry practice in Rockwall in 1993. She happily provides comprehensive general and cosmetic dentistry to generations of her Rockwall neighbors. Dr. Williamson is now accepting new patients.

Contact

560 West Ralph Hall Parkway, Suite 104
Rockwall, Texas 75032
(469) 402-0024
KarenWilliamsonDDS.com