What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing (apneas) or shallow breathing while an individual sleeps. These apneas can occur due to a physical blockage of 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?
The tissues of the throat, soft palate and tongue will relax during deep sleep. If someone has sleep apnea, the throat tissues and soft palate over-relax, causing them to collapse into the back of their throat, blocking the airway.
When the airway is blocked, the flow of oxygen ceases, and as a result, your brain forces you to wake up slightly to consciously resume breathing. These episodes may happen hundreds of times a night, seriously disrupting your sleep.
How are snoring and sleep apnea distinguished?
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.
Once your issue has been diagnosed by a medical professional, your dentists can help you get a better night’s rest with a number of treatment options. Your dentist will need to complete a full examination of your mouth, tongue, airway and jaw. They may also need to take X-rays if the airway to be sure which device might work best for your situation.
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 related to sleep apnea can include a wide range of conditions from high blood pressure which leads to heart disease to metabolic syndromes. You may also experience heart problems, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. Due to the fact that you may experience fatigue due to lack of sleep, you are at a higher risk of workplace and motor vehicle accidents.
By treating sleep apnea, your dentist can help you improve and protect your overall health and wellbeing.