Sleep Apnea – How Your Dentist Can Help
sleep apnea is a serious condition in which tissues of the mouth and throat
create reoccurring respiratory obstruction. This typically occurs when the body
is asleep and can most often be identified through the issue of persistent
snoring or even gasping and choking. Millions of Americans are affected by
obstructive sleep apnea, whether they themselves experience the issue or their
sleep partners are kept awake by the volume of the snores. Since sleep apnea
reduces air intake, it interferes with oxygen entering the lungs and the
circulatory system, resulting in immediate effects like daytime drowsiness,
fatigue, depression and irritability, as well as potentially serious long term
health risks like stroke, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and heart
Sleep apnea should be treated promptly. While it is easily
identified through chronic snoring, if you sleep alone or if snoring is simply
dismissed, sleep apnea can easily go unnoticed and the effects and risks will
only persist. Anyone can develop sleep apnea, but being overweight or obese,
middle-aged or older, male, a frequent drinker, smoker, having a fuller neck
circumference, or family history of sleep apnea amount to an increased risk of
sleep apnea. Additionally, if you’ve ever gasped awake or you often awake
feeling groggy, breathless and experience headaches and dry mouth, you could be
affected by sleep apnea and should consult your doctor about being screened.
If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, there are a number of treatment
options to choose from, and in many cases, your dentist will be able to help.
Treatment of sleep apnea requires that the nightly respiratory obstruction is
prevented. This can be accomplished through several treatment methods.
A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine is frequently used to
treat moderate to severe cases of sleep apnea. Through this therapy, a mask and
hose is attached to machine which delivers constant air pressure. As the mask is
worn at bedtime, the light air pressure keeps the airways of the nose and throat
open. This is the most common treatment approach for sleep apnea, although many
patients must adjust to wearing the mask and relying upon the machine. Some
sleep apnea patients never fully adjust to CPAP therapy and some are simply
unable to tolerate this method. While CPAP can be effective, there are
alternatives for those sleep apnea patients who are unable to comfortably rely
upon this treatment.
Many dental offices
can provide sleep apnea oral appliances. This device looks similar to a night
guard used for TMJ treatment, but instead of absorbing stress, it’s used to
position the jaw so that the tongue and tissues of the oral cavity no longer
block the throat. The device is fairly discreet and contained in a way that
makes it easy to wear and travel with. Most sleep apnea oral appliances are
custom fabricated to ensure the utmost in comfort. A sleep apnea oral appliance
can serve as an alternative to CPAP or even as a supplementary treatment. When
worn with the CPAP mask, the effects can actually be enhanced.
As a last
resort, surgery can be performed to remove excess tissue from the back of the
oral cavity or to permanently reposition the jaw so the opening to the throat is
expanded. There are also lifestyle modifications that can be used to help
minimize sleep apnea, including weight loss, reduction of tobacco use and
alcohol intake, regular exercise and changes in sleep position.
matter the treatment that works best for you, the most important thing is that
sleep apnea is controlled and no longer a detriment to your health.