Do you have trouble getting a restful night’s sleep? Snoring and feeling tired may be due to obstructive sleep apnea, a common condition that causes breathing interruptions throughout your sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax and you can’t breathe in enough air. Your brain senses your inability to breathe and briefly wakes you up and interrupts your sleep so that you inadvertently reopen your airway. In severe cases these interruptions can happen every minute.
If sleep apnea is left untreated, it can lead to serious complications like cardiovascular disease, accidents, and premature death. That’s why it’s important that anyone with signs of sleep apnea receive appropriate medical evaluation. In some circumstances, after diagnosis with a sleep study, a dentist may be able to treat sleep apnea with a special appliance.
Common Signs of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
The first sign of sleep apnea is often tooth grinding. Your dentists can look for tooth wear and breakage, as well as inflamed and receding gums. Other common signs of sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring
- Sleepiness during the day
- Morning headaches
- TMJ Disorder
The best way to determine if you have sleep apnea is to speak with your primary care physician and perform a sleep study. Once diagnosed, a dentist may be able to provide you with a safe, effective treatment for this condition.
Sleep Apnea Risk Factors
There are many factors that can contribute to sleep apnea, including:
- Being overweight or obese
- A family history of sleep apnea
- Nasal obstruction like deviated septum, allergies, etc.
- Over the age of 40
- Being male
In children, enlarged tonsils or adenoids and dental conditions such as a large overbite can be causes of obstructive sleep apnea.
Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea
For some people lifestyle changes can be an effective way to treat sleep apnea: Weight loss, changing sleep positions, and stopping the use of tobacco will likely improve your sleep. If lifestyle changes do not solve your sleep apnea, your dentist can prescribe you a night guard, which will hold your jaw in place and prevent teeth grinding.
Whether or not you need additional treatment for sleep apnea depends on its severity, whether or not you have symptoms such as excessive sleepiness, and if you have other existing health conditions. The main choice of therapy for sleep apnea is a breathing device called a CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure machine, which can help prevent pauses in breathing.
If your dentist thinks you have sleep apnea, he or she will often recommend testing at a sleep center or a home-based sleep study.
Who Treats Sleep Apnea?
If you suspect you have sleep apnea, call your dentist. Your dentist will ask questions about your sleep habits and symptoms. If sleep apnea is a possible cause of your symptoms, your dentist may recommend that you see your primary healthcare specialist.