What is Sleep Apnea?

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts.  It can affect children and adults. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, over 25 million individuals in the United States have sleep apnea.

There are two types of sleep apnea; central and obstructive. The signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apnea overlap, sometimes making it difficult to determine which type you have.

What Are The Most Common Signs and Symptoms of Obstructive and Central Sleep Apnea?

  • Loud snoring
  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Awakening with a dry mouth
  • Morning headache 
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
  • Grinding of teeth

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

This occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax. When the muscles relax, your airway narrows or closes as you breathe in. You can’t get enough air, which can lower the oxygen level in your blood. Your brain senses your inability to breathe and briefly rouses you from sleep so that you can reopen your airway. This awakening is usually so brief that you don’t remember it. You might snort, choke or gasp. This pattern can repeat itself five to 30 times or more each hour, all night, impairing your ability to reach the deep, restful phases of sleep.

What Are The Factors That Increase Your risk of Sleep Apnea?

  • Excess weight. 
  • Thicker Neck circumference. 
  • A narrowed airway Tonsils or adenoids also can enlarge and block the airway, particularly in children.
  • Being male. Men are two to three times more likely to have sleep apnea than are women. However, women increase their risk if they’re overweight, and their risk also appears to rise after menopause.
  • Being older. Sleep apnea occurs significantly more often in older adults.
  • Family history. 
  • Use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers. 
  • Smoking. Smokers are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than are people who’ve never smoked. 
  • Nasal congestion

Complications Can Include

  • Daytime fatigue. You might have difficulty concentrating and find yourself falling asleep at work, while watching TV or even when driving. People with sleep apnea have an increased risk of motor vehicle and workplace accidents. You might also feel quick-tempered, moody or depressed. 
  • Children and adolescents with sleep apnea might perform poorly in school or have behavior problems.
  • High blood pressure or heart problems. Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during sleep apnea increase blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system. 
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Sleep-deprived partners

Treatments For Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition. Dentists often specialize in treating loud snoring and sleep apnea, a field called dental sleep medicine. Our dentists have received special training and can help develop the optimal treatment strategy for a patient’s sleep problem. We can use oral appliance treatment to help our patients manage their snoring and OSA symptoms. Mandibular advancement devices (MADs) and tongue-retaining mouthpieces are two dental appliances that may be recommended in conjunction with CPAP devices for sleep apnea treatment.

CPAP therapy is suggested as the primary therapeutic strategy for most patients with sleep apnea. A CPAP machine, which delivers a constant stream of compressed air throughout the night, is the most effective approach to help someone with moderate to severe OSA. Patients with mild sleep apnea may benefit from oral devices such as the MAD and the tongue-retaining mouthpiece. A combination of an oral device and a CPAP machine may be necessary for effective therapy.

Mandibular advancement devices (MAD)

MAD’s resemble athletic mouthguards and are worn over the upper and lower teeth. The two trays are connected with a hinge in the center. During the night, this device keeps the lower jaw and tongue in a slightly forward posture. When the soft tissues in the back of the mouth and throat relax during sleep, it helps keep the airway open.

If you are experiencing sleep apnea symptoms, consult our dentists about your concerns.

Authored by:

Sulakshana “Sue” Sundaresan, DDS

General Dentist, Adult & Cosmetic Dentistry, Certified Invisalign® Provider

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