How Can My Dentist Help Me with Sleep Apnea?
If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, you are not alone. It is estimated that over 858,000 adult Canadians have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing while sleeping. More than a quarter of adults have risk factors that could lead to sleep apnea. In fact, you could even have sleep apnea and not realize it.
What is Sleep Apnea?
There are two types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This is the most common type of sleep apnea which is caused when the soft tissues of your airway collapse during sleep, in turn preventing oxygen from passing through your airways.
- Central Sleep Apnea: With central sleep apnea, the brain fails to send the right messages to your body that allows you to keep breathing during sleep.
Breathing can stop for a few seconds or last as long as a few minutes. Luckily, these disruptions to your breathing cause you to awaken once you realize you are not breathing. However, when you consider your breathing can stop up to 30 times in an hour, it can have a major effect on your sleeping pattern and prevent you from getting the required rest your body needs. This causes severe fatigue and negatively impacts your overall health.
Causes and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
In the case of obstructive sleep apnea, physical traits such as flaccid muscles in the back of your throat, a large tongue, or a small jaw are the root cause as these interfere with your airways.
Your dentist can help in the diagnosis of sleep apnea as many of the signs can be detected in your mouth. The most common sign is worn tooth surfaces caused by grinding in your sleep. This can lead to receding and inflamed gums and other wear and tear. If you’re suddenly getting more cavities, this can also be a sign you are grinding your teeth at night, as bacteria can become trapped in the small damaged crevices of your teeth.
Other symptoms your dentist can check include a red throat or scalloped edges on your tongue. If your dentist suspects sleep apnea, they will recommend you speak to your doctor for a formal diagnosis. However, once confirmed by your doctor, your dentist can provide a number of treatments to prevent the apnea from reoccurring.
Questions for Your Dentist
Discuss the recommendations with your dentist and ask about the available treatment options. Let your dentist know if you have been using an over-the-counter night guard as this can sometimes make sleep apnea worse if not fitted properly. A dentist can provide a customized nightguard, designed specifically for your mouth, to prevent grinding and reduce wear and tear.
If you have been diagnosed with periodontal disease, it may be a sign of other issues, including sleep apnea. Don’t be afraid to bring this up with your dentist. They will be able to identify potential symptoms of sleep apnea such as drowsiness, dry mouth in the morning, sore throat in the morning, and headaches.
Why is Sleep Apnea a Concern?
When you are constantly waking to gasp for breath, you are losing sleep which leads to fatigue. Sleep apnea is also linked to higher risk conditions such as:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
Sleep apnea can affect your mental health and is more common in those with mood disorders including:
- Bipolar disorder
Without proper sleep, you are not as alert as you should be, putting you at a higher risk of injury and machinery or vehicular accidents.
How Dentists Help with Sleep Apnea
Your dentist can offer a number of effective treatments once you have been properly diagnosed with sleep apnea. If you do not have any other serious health conditions, there are a number of oral appliances you can wear at night which make it easy to manage sleep apnea. These include:
- Mandibular Advancement Devices: Also known as a dental sleep device, this device is used to push your lower jaw forward. It looks like a mouthguard and is customized to fit your teeth and mouth. They are the most common appliances used to help tighten the jaw muscles and keep it in place, thus preventing airway blockage. In some cases, with regular use, airways can become more rigid and eliminate sleep apnea altogether. Your dentist might recommend an adjustable device. If your dentist determines you require a dental sleep device following an assessment of your mouth, temporomandibular joint, and teeth, they will make impressions of your teeth and craft a customized device to fit securely in your mouth.
- Tongue-Retaining Devices: This is a less commonly recommended device used for wider mouths. The appliance helps pull the tongue forward so that it does not interfere with breathing. This device tends to take some getting used to as it can be rather uncomfortable. If the discomfort persists, speak to your dentist to see if adjustments are required.
The Benefits of Oral Appliances
If you meet the criteria for an oral appliance, you might prefer this inexpensive and comfortable option. There are few side effects and you can get used to wearing them more quickly than a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine.