Getting a good night’s rest is imperative to both the body and brain, and when too many nights go by without that quality sleep, it may be a sign of sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a disorder where a patient experiences interrupted breathing several times during the night, usually due to some type of upper airway blockage. Common signs of this obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) include excessive snoring and various dental issues, such as bruxism (grinding of teeth) and tooth decay. You may also feel tired upon waking and experience fatigue and other symptoms throughout the day.
Medical and dental professionals recognize sleep apnea as a major health concern today, and if left untreated, it can lead to serious health issues in our patients.
Fortunately, though, there are now ways to treat that sleep apnea, and your dentist can evaluate and assist you in finding the right solution, starting with a fitted oral mouthpiece or appliance. In more complex cases, however, additional treatments may need considering, such as the use of PAP devices or even surgery.
Sleep Apnea treatment today may consist of the following options.
Oral Mouthpieces or Appliances
For mild to moderate cases of obstructive sleep apnea, patients can work with their dentist to find a mouthpiece or oral appliance treatment option. These options are designed to keep a patient’s throat open as they sleep and help ensure breathing is continuous throughout the night.
Dentists will custom-fit these devices for patients, ensuring a proper fit that is comfortable as well as beneficial in treating the overall sleep apnea.
The types of mouthpieces available include:
MADs (Mandibular Advancement Devices): MADs work by maintaining the forward positioning of the lower jaw, so the upper airway is open and avoids constriction. These devices are often offered for the relief of chronic snoring and nightly teeth grinding (bruxism), which are also signs of sleep apnea.
TRDs (Tongue Retaining Devices): TRDs prevent the tongue from slipping backward in the mouth as a patient sleeps. Without it, the tongue can potentially block air flow and contribute to interrupted breathing as you sleep.
Once fitted by your dentist, you’ll need to schedule follow-up visits to ensure the fit remains suitable and to mention any new symptoms you are experiencing.
Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) devices are an important component for treating many patients with moderate to severe sleep apnea. These devices require the patient to wear a mask, and they deliver pressurized air continuously throughout the night.
Different types of PAP devices are available, but all require a prescription by your healthcare provider. The prescription itself is based on your particular breathing patterns, which define the necessary pressure settings. Your device arrives pre-set according to these prescribed pressure settings and can be adjusted if necessary.
Different types of PAP Devices include:
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): Perhaps the most common device is the CPAP, which pumps a steady, consistent flow of air through a hose and into your airway as you sleep. The air flow keeps your upper airway passages more open. With this, airway collapse is prevented, and it promotes normal breathing patterns and less sleep interruptions.
Bi-Level Positive Airway Pressure (BPAP): The BPAP device differs from the CPAP in that it uses one particular air pressure level for inhalation and a different one for exhalation. In other words, you receive a higher pressure when you inhale and less as you exhale.
Automatic Positive Airway Pressure (APAP): APAP devices provide a more individualized or customized approach, varying the air pressure levels as needed by the patient during his or her particular sleep cycle. The device will automatically adjust the air pressure as you sleep.
Advanced Devices: For those suffering with the more complex sleep apnea, newer treatments are arriving today, such as the Adaptive Servo-Ventilation (ASV). The ASV learns your breathing rhythm and stores that information in its computer. As you sleep, it focuses on normalizing your breathing to match this stored information.
While these devices can be successful, patients often experience discomfort and trouble adjusting to the required mask while sleeping. As a result, many seek the oral mouthpiece or appliance option to treat their sleep apnea instead.
Rarely is any type of surgery recommended to initially treat a patient’s sleep apnea. However, when all else fails to deliver enough positive results, surgery may be recommended.
Surgical recommendations are often made for those patients with anatomical features which can constrict the airway and may require the removal of mouth tissue and even the tonsils and adenoids.
Other surgical options can include jaw repositioning, soft rod implantation, tissue shrinkage, nerve stimulation, or a tracheostomy.
Patients can also take measures on their own to help treat and alleviate sleep apnea. Try these suggested lifestyle changes alone or with your oral mouthpiece or PAP machine.
Lose Weight: Losing weight, even if only a little, can help limit your throat from constricting and blocking the airway when you sleep.
Exercise: Regular exercise is beneficial in easing obstructive sleep apnea symptoms in mild cases, so try to incorporate at least 30 minutes a day into your schedule.
Seek Allergy Treatment: Allergies, either seasonal or year-round, can cause sinuses to stop up and interrupt breathing as you sleep. Consider seeking allergy treatments to help with this.
Avoid or Limit Alcohol and Sedatives: These substances cause muscles in the back of the throat to abnormally relax, which can interfere with your breathing.
Don’t Sleep on Your Back: When lying on your back, the tongue and palate tend to slip back and rest against the throat, blocking your airway. Find ways to keep yourself on your stomach or side while you sleep, such as with a wedge or other device.
Seek the Help of Lifetime Dental Health in Columbus to Treat Your Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea dentistry is your first step in identifying and treating your sleep disorder and getting better rest. Dr. Richard Barry and his team at Lifetime Dental Health are here to help with this and will work with you to find your best solution. Contact our Columbus office today to schedule an appointment with our professional, compassionate team and find out how we can help.
Sleep apnea affects over 25 million adults in the US today, and if you’re one of these, you may already be receiving treatment. Many people, however, may not even know they suffer with the sleep disorder, and this can lead to dangerous health problems down the road if not diagnosed and treated.
Fortunately, dentists specialized in sleep apnea identification and treatment are more common today and are often the first to recognize the disorder in patients and provide treatment options. In other instances, a healthcare provider and dentist can work together to offer solutions and help patients finally get a better night’s rest and improve their health in the process.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Essentially, sleep apnea is the condition of experiencing repetitive breathing interruptions at night during the sleep cycle. This condition exists when something partially or temporarily blocks the upper airway, preventing oxygen from entering in and reaching the lungs as you sleep.
Many factors can cause this interrupted breathing and need addressing sooner rather than later so as to avoid dangerous health issues, including high blood pressure, heart strain, and dips in oxygen levels.
7 Common Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea
Even without a medically supervised sleep study, warning signs abound for those who experience sleep apnea. Here are seven, in particular, to be aware of for you and your loved ones.
1. Excessive Snoring
Excessive, loud snoring is notably the most obvious sign of sleep apnea. If you often wake yourself up at night with your snoring or a bed mate constantly complains about it, you may unknowingly suffer from sleep apnea.
Snoring can be a prime indication that the airway is constricting or being obstructed in some way as you sleep. Enlarged tissue or other factors can cause this.
2. Gasping for Air
You may also be experiencing the stopping and restarting of breath during the night and even struggle to gasp for air on occasion.
Each breathing interruption episode can last as little as a few seconds to several minutes long. During these episodes, you may struggle to breathe, gasping for air and making choking noises.
Once again, your bed mate will often be the one to discover this, or it may be recognized during a sleep study.
3. Grinding of Teeth or Clenching of Jaw During the Night
When an individual experiences sleep apnea and the airway is blocked, the natural physical reaction is the clenching of the jaws and grinding of teeth. This reaction is the natural response to oxygen deprivation in the brain and body and not something you choose to do voluntarily.
While you may not realize this clenching and grinding are occurring, you will show signs which are often identifiable by your dental team.
During a dental exam where broken, cracked, worn, or flat teeth or dental restorations appear, your dentist may suspect and diagnose bruxism, which is the chronic grinding of teeth and jaw clenching at night as you sleep.
Often jaw pain and frequent headaches accompany these dental issues, serving as more warning signs that sleep apnea is to blame. Patients often experience TMJ disorders as well.
If you know you are experiencing any of these, talk with your dentist and discuss potential causes and treatments.
4. Dry Mouth Upon Awakening
Sleep apnea will cause a patient to breathe more through the mouth instead of the nose, often leaving them with a dry mouth upon waking.
Talk with your dentist if you find yourself waking with a dry mouth most mornings. This dry mouth can lead to tooth decay, as well as gum inflammation, periodontal disease, and mouth sores.
If you always feel unrested upon waking in the mornings, you may not be getting a good night’s sleep, and this sleep disorder may be directly affecting you.
Also, finding yourself constantly feeling fatigued or sleepy throughout the day can be a warning sign of sleep apnea as well. While a few days of this is somewhat normal these days, due to various stressors, it shouldn’t be the case more often than not.
6. Concentration Difficulties
The inability or decrease in the ability to concentrate is often a side effect of sleep apnea. Your brain and body require adequate levels of oxygen to function and stay healthy. When this doesn’t happen, you may experience difficulty concentrating, be easily distracted, and feel as if in a haze of sorts throughout the day.
While you are still getting some sleep, it is not the quality of sleep your brain needs to keep you focused and productive.
The lack of adequate oxygen reaching your brain during the interrupted sleep can lead to increasing concentration difficulties, and this can lead to accidents and other stress-related problems.
7. Memory Issues
While temporarily experiencing forgetfulness can be troubling, when it occurs on a more frequent basis, it becomes a problem. The lack of quality sleep and adequate oxygen to the brain caused by sleep apnea may be the culprit behind it all.
When simple tasks become challenging, consider consulting with your dentist or health care professional and ask about the potential for experiencing sleep apnea, especially if you suffer from any of the other warning signs on this list.
How Dentists Can Help with Sleep Apnea
While your medical doctor is often the first to diagnose sleep apnea, today, dentists play an ever-increasing role in identifying and offering treatment options for those patients suffering with the disorder.
With the use of mouth and dental x-rays, and physical examinations of the throat and mouth, dental problems, tissues, or other blockages to the airway can be identified. From there, your dentist can recommend treatment options in the form of dental corrections, mouth pieces, or other appliances, and refer you to your medical provider for more information and options.
Sleep Apnea Dentistry in Columbus
Dr. Richard Barry and his team understand the complexities and problems surrounding sleep apnea and strive to help you or loved ones find the best solution possible. Whether you need dental corrections or mouth pieces to help relieve airway blockage, the team at Lifetime Dental Health is with you every step of the way. Call us today or contact us online at our website to schedule an appointment and start finding relief from your sleep apnea today.
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