Sleep Apnea: What Is It?
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?
When you drift into a deep sleep, your throat tissues, soft palate and tongue relax. For those with sleep apnea, the throat tissues and soft palate over-relax, causing them to collapse into the back of your 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 diagnosed?
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. We will complete a full examination of your teeth, tongue, airway and jaw, and potentially take an x-ray of your airway, to determine the right appliance for your needs.
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 can include a wide range of conditions from metabolic syndrome and high blood sugar, which is linked to an increased risk of heart disease. You may also experience heart problems, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes and resistance to insulin. Because of your daytime fatigue, you may be at an increased risk of workplace or motor vehicle accidents.
By treating sleep apnea, your dentist can help you protect your overall health and well-being.