Obstructive sleep apnea causes a person’s breathing to stop and start throughout the night, from a few seconds to over a minute. This chronic condition can also potentially affect one’s future health, contributing to heart problems, high blood pressure and other concerns.
Signs of Sleep Apnea
Roughly 54 million Americans live with obstructive sleep apnea and the condition is more common in men than women.
When sleep apnea occurs, the muscles go slack as an individual sleeps, causing soft tissue to block the airway. This causes a person to briefly stop breathing before awakening, then quickly going back to sleep. In this process, the person is receiving less oxygen than needed.
In addition to this cycle of waking up and going back to sleep, other symptoms can accompany sleep apnea, including:
- Loud snoring
- Choking sounds
- Extreme tiredness
- Dry mouth
- Intense morning headaches
- Teeth grinding
- Worn or broken teeth
- Inflamed or receding gums
- Increased cavities
- Red or sore throat
While sleep apnea can occur at any age, it’s more common during or after menopause, if a patient is overweight, has jaw alignment issues or a narrower airway.
Long-Term Complications of Sleep Apnea
The consequences of untreated sleep apnea gradually worsen over time. Patients have been known to experience memory loss related to excessive daytime fatigue or have a higher likelihood of accidents.
The condition may contribute to the development of other serious health issues, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Type II diabetes
- Acid reflux
- Erectile dysfunction
- Metabolic syndrome
- Liver issues
Dental Treatments for Sleep Apnea
Board-certified sleep medicine physicians diagnose sleep apnea, yet certain dental treatments may help patients cope with the condition, reduce long-term effects and improve overall quality of life.
After you’ve received a diagnosis, consider the following solutions with Smile Dental Center.
Moderate to severe sleep apnea may be treated by continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, in which a machine delivering constant forced air through a flexible tube helps keep the patient’s airway open.
A partial or full mask is worn to sleep, which might seem uncomfortable at first but adjustments can be made to alleviate this sensation over time.
Oral Appliance Therapy
For patients who have a hard time adjusting to the CPAP machine, oral appliances are another solution for mild to moderate sleep apnea or chronic snoring.
Specifically designed to the shape of a patient’s mouth, these devices keep the airway open as the patient sleeps by adjusting the position of the jaw or tongue and preventing collapse or obstruction. Although not a complete replacement for CPAP therapy, oral appliances offer a backup or supplemental option for many patients.
Your dentist can also help you develop new habits to improve quality of life, focusing on:
- Sleep Positions: Sleeping on your side or with your head elevated.
- Open Nasal Passages: Solutions like nasal sprays or strips keep the passageway open.
- Reducing Sleep Aids: Stopping smoking, sleep-inducing substances and alcohol consumption allows for more natural sleep.
- Losing Weight: Diet and exercise to lose weight and reduce sleep apnea symptoms.
- Regular Routine: Patients may find that developing an exercise routine and going to bed at a consistent time each night lessen sleep apnea symptoms.
Surgical procedures may address and alleviate the cause of sleep apnea, including:
- Correcting a deviated septum
- Removing enlarged tonsils
- Minimally invasive procedures to lessen or stiffen the soft tissue behind the airway
- Procedures to open up the airway