Do you snore when you sleep? Wake up in the middle of the night out of breath? Feel tired all the time? If you answered yes to these questions, you may have sleep apnea.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects an estimated 18 million adults in the United States. With sleep apnea, your breathing stops while you’re sleeping, then starts up again. The pause in between breaths can be 10 seconds or longer, and it can happen as often as 30 times or more each hour you sleep. Unsurprisingly, this can wreak havoc on getting a good night’s sleep. It’s not uncommon for patients with sleep apnea to wake up many times throughout the night.
There are three types of sleep apnea; the most common type is called obstructive sleep apnea. With obstructive sleep apnea, the tissues of the throat and palate relax while you sleep, which causes the tissues to sag and obstruct the airway. Although the daytime fatigue that comes with sleep apnea can make it difficult to go about your daily tasks, sleep apnea can have more serious consequences. It’s been linked to numerous health conditions, including:
- High blood pressure and heart problems
- Type 2 diabetes
- Metabolic syndrome
- Complications with certain medications or general anesthesia
- Liver issues
In addition, a lack of sleep can affect your overall well-being. You may find you have memory issues, moodiness, and difficulty concentrating. Fortunately, your dentist can help diagnose and treat sleep apnea!
How’s Your Sleep Quality?
This might not be a question you expect to hear from your dentist, but believe it or not, we have ways of spotting patients who might have sleep apnea. One of the first signs is bruxism, more commonly known as teeth grinding. Teeth grinding causes worn surfaces on your teeth, as well as cracks, broken teeth, and inflamed or receding gums. A sudden increase in cavities can also be a sign of teeth grinding because the force of grinding your teeth can cause damage that makes them more vulnerable to cavity-causing bacteria.
TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders are often closely associated with sleep apnea, although the relationship between the two isn’t completely understood. A study published in the Journal of Dental Research found that people with obstructive sleep apnea are twice as likely to have TMJ disorders than people without sleep apnea. Other signs of sleep apnea are a tongue with “scalloped” edges, a small jaw, redness in the throat, or unusually large throat tissues.
Dentistry to the Rescue!
There are several ways to treat sleep apnea; in the case of obstructive sleep apnea, you may only need to make some lifestyle changes. These include:
- Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight
- Avoiding alcohol or drugs that relax your central nervous system
- Quitting smoking
- Taking antihistamines or other medications that help with nasal allergies
One of the most common ways to treat sleep apnea is with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. CPAP machines provide a gentle flow of air through a small mask that you wear at night, which helps prevent your tissues from obstructing your airway. Although they’re very effective, they can be bulky, and some patients have trouble sleeping with them.
Nightguards or other oral appliances can also be very effective for patients with mild-to-moderate cases of obstructive sleep apnea. They work by moving your jaw and throat into a position that prevents tissue obstruction while you sleep. Although rare, surgery is also an option for severe sleep apnea.
Get the Quality Sleep You Deserve
It might be easy to push aside sleep apnea symptoms as “just a snore” but poor sleep quality can have a serious impact on your well-being and ability to function throughout the day. However, the long-term effects are more concerning. Since sleep apnea affects the oxygenation of your blood and the way your heart and lungs function, it can increase your risk of heart attacks, stroke, and other serious health problems. Sleep is also very important for the body’s immune system and ability to heal!
If you have signs of sleep apnea, don’t ignore them! Schedule an appointment at Enamel Dentistry so we can evaluate your symptoms and create a custom treatment plan.