Do you snore heavily, wake up tired or feel sleepy during the day? If so, you’re not alone. More than 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, which is a very common and potentially life-threatening medical disorder that occurs when the soft tissue in a person’s throat repeatedly collapses and blocks the airway during sleep.
There are about 90 million people who suffer from snoring, and while half of these people are “simple snorer’s” or primary snorers, the other half may have a serious sleep disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
So how do you know if you have sleep apnea or are just suffering from simple snoring?
In today’s blog post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about sleep apnea, signs that you’re suffering from this issue, and how this problem is linked to your dental health.
Simple Snoring vs. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
Even though simple snoring and suffering from OSA are greatly different, they are often thought of as one and the same. While OSA will almost always leads to loud and frequent snoring, snoring does not always indicate OSA, which is a chronic condition characterized by pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep.
When people with OSA fall asleep, they can stop breathing for a few seconds to a minute or more, and this can happen numerous times throughout their period of sleep. Both conditions can be caused or made worse by obesity, large tongue and tonsils, aging, and head and neck shape.
While OSA is the most common form of sleep apnea, other types include central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing, and complex sleep apnea syndrome, which occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
If you find yourself experiencing any symptoms that fall in line with sleep apnea, including loud snoring, shortness of breath or gasping for air while sleeping, intermittent pauses in your breathing during sleep, or excessive daytime drowsiness, it is important to talk to your dentist.
Your dentist will be able to help accurately diagnose and treat your specific type of sleep apnea to ensure you are able to sleep without any issues.
Common Signs of Sleep Apnea
The most common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring (enough to wake you or your partner), episodes of breathing cessation during sleep, waking up with a dry mouth or a sore throat, abrupt awakenings followed by shortness of breath, morning headaches, excessive daytime sleepiness, attention problems, jaw pain, and more.
It is also important to note that the effects of sleep apnea don’t stop in the bedroom, as being sleepy during the day can cause problems for your work and personal life, as well as cause safety concerns for driving, operating machinery, providing child care, etc.
Who is at Risk of Sleep Apnea?
Anyone can suffer from sleep apnea, but people with the following characteristics are more prone to this problem than others:
– Over 40 years old
– Excess weight
– Large tonsils, small jaw
– Family history of sleep apnea
Common Health Issues Stemming from Sleep Apnea
There are a variety of serious health issues that are linked to sleep apnea, including:
– High blood pressure
– Heart failure
The Connection Between Sleep and Oral Health
There is a direct relationship with sleep apnea and oral health, which is why it’s so important to pay attention to your sleep patterns. Getting a good night’s sleep helps to reduce stress, reduces bad breath and mouth ulcers, as well as wards off the progression of periodontal disease because gums are more susceptible to periodontal disease when you don’t sleep.
Additionally, sleeping well gives your body time to self-maintain, heal and repair, and not only keeps blood sugar levels stable but also bolsters your immune system.
If you suffer from symptoms of sleep apnea, additional problems can arise for your smile. Teeth grinding (bruxism) is actually the first sign of sleep apnea. Dentists will look for worn surfaces, which is a sign that a patient grinds his/her teeth. Grinding can also cause tooth wear and breakage as well as inflamed and receding gums. A spike in cavities can also be a sign of grinding because the force damages teeth, making them more susceptible to cavity-causing bacteria.
Other problems include TMJ issues and pain when chewing. Recent studies show that when the throat begins to relax before an apnea episode, the jaw reflexively clamps down to prevent the airway from being blocked. This places excessive stress on the jaw, mouth, neck and shoulders, and may cause TMJ.
Because people who suffer from sleep apnea gasp for breath, causing them to wake up repeatedly, their quality of sleep is lessened and they suffer from fatigue.
Sleep apnea is directly linked to a higher risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and obesity, which can also further exacerbate the sleep apnea issues.
Your Dentist is the Best Line of Defense for Sleep Apnea
The good news is that your dentist is here to help! Since bruxism is often the most obvious tell-tale sign of sleep apnea, your dentist (pending you make regularly scheduled visits) will be able to notice any change to your teeth, gums, and bite. Additionally, most dentists should offer a sleep apnea screening to all of their patients, which is a simple questionnaire that gives you a range from moderate to severe.
It used to be that there was only one device for treating sleep apnea, which was the CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure. Most patients, however, find that it is very uncomfortable for sleeping and so they opt not to wear it, which doesn’t at all help their sleep apnea problems.
Today, there is a much smaller and comfortable device called the TAP-3, or Thornton Adjustable Positioner. The device holds the lower jaw in a forward position so that it does not fall open during the night, which causes the airway to collapse. This device is a similar size to a mouthguard and maintains a clear airway to reduce snoring and improve breathing. Because it’s more comfortable to wear, patients have had greater success treating and managing their sleep apnea than with the CPAP.
At Spodak Dental Group, we consider sleep apnea one of the most important and life-saving treatments we offer. All of our doctors are dedicated to the health of our patients and actively look for any and all signs of sleep apnea. We have had great success with helping our patients, and many even say that it has changed their life, and that they even forgot what a good night’s sleep was!
If you think you might suffer with sleep apnea, please reach out to us. We will take all necessary steps to help you get the care you need, and will even work with your dental and health insurance to have the cost covered as much as possible. We look forward to helping to sleep restfully and healthfully again!