Sleep Apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. If you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, you might have sleep apnea.

The main types of sleep apnea are Obstructive sleep apnea, the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

When most people suspect a sleep disorder, they don’t typically run to their dentist for treatment. However, if sleep apnea is the cause, a specially trained dentist in the treatment of sleep apnea may be the exact person you need.

What is sleep apnea?

About 12 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, where breathing stops intermittently while sleeping. Whenever air flow ceases, the brain wakes the sleeper up and they’ll have lighter sleep or wake up with a snort, choke, or gasp. That pattern repeats hundreds of times a night, leading to a poor night’s rest and various health complications.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

While there are two kinds of sleep apnea, most people with the disorder have obstructive sleep apnea which consists of airway blockage. The position of the tongue along with the size and shape of air passages contribute to blocking the airways, particularly when the muscles relax.

How do I know if I have sleep apnea?

As strange as it sounds, some people with sleep apnea believe they sleep well. The real trick lies in knowing what to look for qualifying risk factors and the symptoms that occur throughout the day.

Risk Factors

  • Overweight
  • Neck circumference of small airways
  • Men tend to get sleep apnea more often than women
  • Over the age of 60
  • Related to someone with sleep apnea
  • Black, Hispanic, or Pacific Islander
  • Lifestyle including alcohol, tobacco, or tranquilizers
  • Nasal congestion

Symptoms

  • Snoring
  • Waking up with a snort, choke, or gasp throughout the night
  • Hypersomnia (falling asleep while driving, at work, etc.)
  • Dry mouth or sore throat
  • Insomnia
  • ADD or ADHD
  • Morning headaches

Recognizing sleep apnea in children often proves more difficult. Some of the listed symptoms may exist along with others such as strange sleeping positions, bedwetting, night sweats, or night terrors. Regardless of age, visit a health professional for an official diagnosis.

What are the effects of sleep apnea?

If losing a good night’s sleep isn’t enough, there are other serious health problems that can arise from sleep apnea if left untreated:

  • Cardiovascular issues including high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, etc.
  • Medical complications from anesthesia
  • Liver issues
  • Stroke
  • Memory loss
  • Premature death

Due to the potential seriousness of the disorder, if you even suspect you may suffer from sleep apnea you need to schedule an appointment with your doctor for testing. Evaluations typically monitor heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow, breathing patterns, and brain activity; they occur either in the doctor’s office or in your own home. Once tested, your doctor or sleep specialist can recommend you to a qualified dentist who specializes in the treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

How can my dentist help me?

Your dentist may offer oral appliance therapy which helps a large number of patients with sleep apnea. Oral appliances look similar to an athlete’s mouth guard but they are designed to open the airways to encourage adequate breathing.

Two types of oral appliances exist tongue retaining and mandibular repositioning appliances. The most common one is the mandibular repositioning oral appliance which shifts the jaw forward to prevent air blockage. (Try making a snoring sound and moving your lower jaw forward; you’ll see how the device works.)

Almost a hundred variations of those basic two oral appliances exist so talk with your dentist to find the one which works best for you. Even after you receive your device, annual check-ups with your dentist will allow you to both keep the perfect fit and to ensure your sleep apnea doesn’t return.
If you believe you might have Obstructive Sleep Apnea, talk with your doctor and dentist immediately. Together, you can find a solution so you can live the healthy life you want.

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