Sleep apnea diagnoses have dramatically increased in recent years, yet many people with this disorder do not realize they have it. The stereotypical sleep apnea patient is an overweight, middle-aged man, but the disorder can also affect women and young adults, who are often overlooked today. Here is what you need to know.
Signs of Sleep Apnea
Most people with sleep apnea have several warning signs that may be discounted or interpreted as something else. Ask yourself:
- Do you wake up without energy in the mornings, regardless of the amount of time spent in bed?
- Do you wake up feeling foggy or out of sorts?
- Do you wake up 3 or more times a week with a headache?
- Do you wake up with dry mouth?
- Do you feel the need for coffee or an energy drink in the afternoon due to extreme drowsiness?
- Do you clench or grind your teeth?
- Can you breathe through your nose?
- Do you snore?
- Does your partner ever need to wake you up or roll you over due to how loudly you snore, or wake you because you sound like you’re gasping for air or choking?
- Do you have acid reflux?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is possible that you have sleep apnea or a related breathing problem, and a sleep study is highly recommended.
Why? Sleep apnea is no joke: it is a life or death situation.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is defined as episodes during sleep in which the patient stops breathing for 10 seconds or more. These episodes may occur 20 to 100 or more times per hour, depending on severity.
Dentists are often the first to recognize sleep apnea, as there are certain telltale signs in the mouth. These include, but are not limited to:
- Signs of teeth grinding and clenching, such as worn or broken teeth and loss of gum tissue or jawbone
- Very large tongue or thick neck, which can constrict the airway during sleep
- Large bone deposits known as tori under the tongue
Treating Sleep Apnea
If we observe signs of sleep apnea, we will first ask you questions similar to those listed above to determine if your symptoms fit the pattern of sleep apnea. We will then refer you to a sleep doctor for an in-depth sleep study to confirm your diagnosis.
The standard treatment is a C-PAP machine, which maintains positive pressure to prevent your airway from collapsing. However, some people cannot use a C-PAP machine, while others simply find it cumbersome. We can create a custom mandibular advancement device, which is a small appliance similar to a night guard that moves the lower jaw forward during the night, keeping the airway open.
If airway blockage, such as a large tongue or a narrow airway, is the cause of your sleep apnea, this type of device can be an excellent solution. Some people use a mandibular advancement device alone, others use it in tandem with a C-PAP machine, and still others use a C-PAP at home and the appliance while traveling. We encourage patients to experiment with both products to see what works best for them.
We may not always realize how poor our sleep is, but once we finally experience restorative sleep, the benefits are life changing. Not only can treating your sleep apnea increase the quality of your life, but also your longevity. Ultimately, a good night’s sleep is the best thing you can do for yourself—and for those you love.