What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is defined by abnormal pauses in breathing (apneas) or shallow breathing while sleeping. These apneas can be caused by a physical obstruction in airflow, a lack of respiratory effort, or both.
There are three types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Central sleep apnea
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome (occurs when someone has obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea)
What causes sleep apnea?
When you drift into a deep sleep, your throat tissues, soft palate and tongue relax. For those with sleep apnea, the throat tissues and soft palate over-relax, causing them to collapse into the back of your throat, blocking the airway.
When the airway is blocked, the flow of oxygen stops and your brain forces you to slightly wake up in order to consciously resume breathing. These episodes can occur hundreds of times per night, causing significant disruption to your sleep.
How are snoring and sleep apnea diagnosed?
Symptoms of sleep apnea include heavy snoring, headaches and migraines upon waking, restless sleep, excessive daytime fatigue, problems focusing, irritability, depression and TMJ symptoms.
Though loud snoring is a notorious symptom and may indicate a potentially serious problem, not everyone who has sleep apnea will snore. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should visit a medical professional so you can receive a proper diagnosis.
After a medical professional has diagnosed your problem, your dentists can help you get a better night's sleep with a variety of treatment options. To determine the best appliance for your needs, we will perform a thorough examination of your teeth, tongue, airway, and jaw, as well as possibly take an x-ray of your airway.
What sleep apnea devices or oral appliances can help?
Dental appliances can help by positioning your lower jaw further forward, effectively pulling your tongue away from the throat and the soft palate to open your airway. These dental appliances are:
- Easy to care for
- Comfortable to wear
- Easy to insert and remove
- Quiet and not disruptive to any bed partners (unlike some sleep apnea machines)
- Convenient for travel
Why is it important to treat sleep apnea?
If you have sleep apnea, you will be unable to fall into a deep, restorative sleep that recharges your brain and body. This can play a role in many medical disorders and diseases, and reduce your life’s quality and longevity.
Complications can range from metabolic syndrome to high blood sugar, which is linked to an increased risk of heart disease. You may also develop heart problems, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and insulin resistance. Because of your daytime fatigue, you may be more likely to be involved in a workplace or motor vehicle accident.
By treating sleep apnea, your dentist can help you improve and protect your overall health and well-being.