Posts for tag: sleep apnea
When you awake in the morning do you still feel exhausted? Are you irritable during the day, unable to think or focus clearly? Is your loud snoring bothering your bed partner?
If you answered affirmatively to any of these questions, you may have sleep apnea. This happens when an obstruction (usually the tongue) blocks the airway during sleep, preventing you from breathing. Your brain notices the drop in oxygen and wakes you to re-open the airway. The arousal lasts only a few seconds, and you may not even notice. But because it can happen many times a night, these waking episodes can rob you of the deep sleep your body needs.
Sleep apnea is more serious than simply waking up grumpy. Over time, it could contribute to dangerous health conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease. If you’re noticing any of these signs, it’s important then that you undergo a complete examination by a physician or dentist trained in sleep-related issues.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce sleep apnea. One of the most common is continuous airway pressure (CPAP): This method uses a small pump that pushes pressurized air through a face mask worn while the patient sleeps. The forced air keeps the airway open and reduces apnea episodes.
While it’s an effective method, it can be uncomfortable and cumbersome to use—some people can’t tolerate wearing the mask while they sleep. But if your sleep apnea symptoms are mild to moderate, your dentist may be able to provide an alternative therapy with a specially designed oral appliance.
Similar to a mouthguard or retainer, a sleep apnea appliance worn during sleep holds the lower jaw forward, which helps move the tongue away from the airway. It’s much less cumbersome (and noisy) than a CPAP machine. And your dentist can custom design and fabricate your appliance for a comfortable fit.
Not all cases of sleep apnea can benefit from such an appliance, or even from CPAP therapy. Extreme cases could require surgery to remove tissues blocking the airway. But most sleep apnea patients don’t require this invasive intervention. Getting checked by a qualified medical professional could open the door to a more convenient and effective way to a better night’s sleep.
Q: What is sleep apnea, and how common is it?
A: Obstructive sleep apnea is a type of sleep-related breathing disorder (SRBD) in which the airflow to the lungs is restricted — or even cut off completely — during sleep. This condition is usually caused by the collapse of soft tissues in the back of the throat, and is potentially deadly. Sleep disorders, including SRBD, are thought to affect tens of millions of people in the United States. They have been blamed for several catastrophic accidents, including the 2014 Metro-North train crash in New York, and the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.
Q: How can I tell if I might have sleep apnea?
A: Everyone has trouble sleeping sometimes. But if you constantly snore, wake up feeling irritable, and experience sleepiness and diminished performance during the day, it may mean you suffer from this condition. After a while, SRBDs can trigger depression, confusion, memory loss, and other personality changes. Medical professionals note that a person with SRBD tends to be obese; to show enlargement of the tongue, tonsils, or uvula; to have nasal polyps or congestion; and possibly, to exhibit other signs.
Q: How is sleep apnea treated?
A: There are various treatments for sleep apnea, depending on the severity of the problem and its likely cause. These include oral appliance therapy (wearing a retainer-like device in the mouth at night); orthodontic treatment and/or oral surgery; and using a CPAP (constant positive airway pressure) machine to help facilitate breathing at night. Each has advantages and disadvantages that should be discussed with a healthcare provider who has experience in the area of sleep disorders.
Q: What does all this have to do with dentistry?
A: Dentists are, of course, extremely familiar with the anatomy of the mouth. We sometimes notice signs of potential sleep problems before they become life-threatening. What’s more, we may be able to successfully treat the problem with oral appliance therapy. We can properly fabricate, fit and adjust an oral device that helps keep your airway open at night. Because it is inexpensive, removable, and relatively comfortable, an oral appliance may be a good remedy to try before moving on to more complex treatments, such as a CPAP machine or surgery. So if you think you might have SRBD, maybe it’s time to make an appointment and talk to us about it.
Jillian Michaels, personal trainer and star of television's The Biggest Loser isn't afraid of a tough situation — like a heart-pumping exercise routine that mixes kickboxing with a general cardio workout. But inside, she told an interviewer from Dear Doctor magazine, she's really a softie, with “a drive to be one of the good guys.” In her hit TV shows, she tries to help overweight people get back to a healthy body mass. And in doing so, she comes face-to-face with the difficult issue of sleep apnea.
“When I encounter sleep apnea it is obviously weight related. It's incredibly common and affects millions of people,” she says. Would it surprise you to know that it's a problem dentists encounter as well?
Sleep apnea is a type of sleep-related breathing disorder (SRBD) that's associated with being overweight, among other things. Chronic loud snoring is one symptom of this condition. A person with sleep apnea may wake 50 or more times per hour and have no memory of it. These awakenings last just long enough to allow an individual to breathe — but don't allow a deep and restful sleep. They may also lead to other serious problems, and even complications such as brain damage from lack of oxygen.
What's the dental connection? Sleep apnea can sometimes be effectively treated with an oral appliance that's available here at the dental office. The appliance, worn at night, repositions the jaw to reduce the possibility of the tongue obstructing the throat and closing the airway. If you are suffering from sleep apnea, an oral appliance may be recommended — it's a conservative treatment that's backed by substantial scientific evidence.
As Michaels says, “I tell people that [sleep apnea] is not a life sentence... It will get better with hard work and a clean diet.” So listen to the trainer! If you would like more information about sleep-related breathing disorders, please contact us for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sleep Disorders and Dentistry.”