1 in 5 American adults currently has sleep apnea, a potentially fatal condition that impacts your ability to breathe properly while you sleep. Many people suffering from sleep apnea experience the symptoms without realizing that they have the condition, and underdiagnosis is a major issue. Thankfully, there are ways that you can get a good night of rest and work with your primary care doctor and dentist to breathe easier.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a type of sleep issue that presents serious medical consequences to those who have it. The term describes a sleep disorder where you stop breathing for short periods throughout the night. Even though the gap in breathing might only last a second, it can be harmful and lead to a poor quality of life.
The most common type of sleep apnea is known as obstructive sleep apnea. This type is caused by the throat muscles relaxing so much during sleep that you stop breathing momentarily. Another common form of apnea is central sleep apnea, which is caused by a disconnection between your muscles and the signals that your brain is sending. Finally, complex sleep apnea is the third variety, and it describes a combination of the two other forms.
What Are the Signs That You Might Have Sleep Apnea?
Many people don’t realize that they have sleep apnea. In fact, it’s estimated that 90% of the adults in America that have diagnosable sleep apnea don’t even know it. There are numerous indicators that you are not getting sufficient oxygen as you sleep. Some of them include:
- Feeling like you did not get enough sleep despite sleeping for a normal amount of time
- Getting a headache soon after waking
- Snoring, snoring louder than usual, or snoring at a high volume
- Difficulty staying focused
- Dry mouth
- Your bed partner detecting gaps in your breathing while you sleep
There are many overlaps between sleep apnea symptoms and other conditions. As a result, it’s important to schedule an evaluation and sleep study with your dentist. If you share a bed with a partner, you should also heed their concerns if they notice anything irregular while you are asleep.
What Happens to Patients with Untreated Sleep Apnea?
Unlike some sleep conditions that merely lead to discomfort, sleep apnea has potentially deadly consequences. Some of the most common consequences of untreated sleep apnea include:
- Heart attack
- Car accidents due to lack of sleep
- Congestive heart failure
When you are evaluated for sleep apnea, your dentist can also assess your risk for the conditions and diseases above. Early detection is critical to limit the progression of more serious effects. Adults are most likely to receive a sleep apnea diagnosis, but children and teens can also develop it.
How Can Sleep Apnea Be Treated?
The continuous positive airway pressure machine, also known as a CPAP machine, is the most often utilized tool to ensure you remain breathing throughout the night and sleep comfortably. These machines work by pressuring the air in your home and pushing it through the mask that you wear on your face. Proper fitting for your CPAP is essential to ensure the best possible results.
Oral appliance therapy is another option to ease sleep apnea symptoms and allow for proper breathing. Your dentist can assist you in custom-fitting a device that will shift your teeth, tongue, and the rest of your mouth into a position that stops your tongue from sliding back and potentially obstructing your throat. Choosing a custom appliance designed by your dentist is essential to optimize the structure of the appliance for your mouth. Once you have your new oral appliance and CPAP machine, you can schedule another sleep test to confirm that your symptoms are gone.
Why Should You Work With a Dentist for Your Sleep Apnea Care?
A dentist can provide you with a variety of sleep apnea services. First, they can discuss your symptoms with you and recommend additional testing and potential solutions. Once you’ve received your diagnosis, your dentist can take a mold of your teeth and design an appliance to seamlessly match your bite. This will improve your breathing and keep you comfortable at night.
Sleep apnea can also lead to other dental problems that should be addressed by your dentist. For example, when you sleep with your mouth open during the night, you are at an increased risk of dry mouth. Dry mouth is linked to gum disease, cavities, and more rapid plaque accumulation.