What is sleep apnea and why you need to see a dentist

People usually experience sleep apnea as waking from sleep gasping for air; waking with a dry mouth; snoring loudly; experiencing tiredness in the morning; light sleep and frequent waking at night. But why does this happen? What is sleep apnea?


What is sleep apnea?

Someone suffering from sleep apnea will breathe in stops and starts during sleep. It can be a partial or complete obstruction of oxygen reaching the lungs. Sufferers of apnea wake up frequently at night, may experience headaches, and snore loudly. There are two main causes of sleep apnea:

          Central sleep apnea

          Obstructive sleep apnea


Can a dentist treat sleep apnea?

Many people are surprised to hear that dentists are often the first to diagnose sleep apnea. Dentists also help cure sleep apnea – though not all kinds. Dentists can cure obstructive sleep apnea, by far the most common sleeping disorder.

Dental procedures and dental appliances are commonly used to cure sleep disorders and symptoms such as snoring. If you or your partner believes you are experiencing breathing difficulties during sleep, get in touch with a dentist immediately.


Causes of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea can affect anyone – from children to adults. There are two main causes of sleep apnea:

Central sleep apnea – This occurs when the muscles that control breathing don’t receive the right signals from the brain.

Obstructive sleep apnea – The most common type of apnea, is caused by obstructions in the mouth or throat that prevent the flow of air into the mouth.

A relatively recently discovered third cause is ‘complex sleep apnea syndrome’. Complex sleep apnea is diagnosed when a person exhibits both central and obstructive sleep apnea symptoms.


Dental devices for sleep apnea

Different dental devices for sleep apnea try to ease symptoms or cure the underlying problem. Which device is right for you depends on what is causing your apnea.

Mandibular advancement device (MAD) MADs are the most widely used devices for the treatment of sleep apnea. These look like mouth guards and attach to the upper and lower arches of the mouth. They reduce the obstruction to airways and make breathing easier at night.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) – A CPAP device is comprised of a mask that fits over the nose and/or mouth; a near-silent motor that pumps air; and a tube, called a cannula, that connects the motor and mask. CPAP maintains a constant gentle air pressure down the through which keeps the airways open and prevents obstructions.

Tongue retainer – Though not as commonly used as MADs, the tongue retainer is a simple way of preventing the tongue from blocking the airway. It uses a splint to hold the tongue down in the mouth and stops it from retracting too far back into the mouth.


Dental appliance vs CPAP

Whether a dental appliance like MAD or the CPAP is right for you depends on several factors:

          What is the primary cause of your sleep apnea?

          Do you regularly use the treatment every night?

          Are you comfortable with the device?

For many, the right device is one that is most comfortable to wear while sleeping. CPAP can feel a bit unwieldy at first but once you are used to it, it offers regular sleep. Dental devices offer similar efficacy to CPAP, too, and can cure sleep apnea with long-term use. Again, there is a short period in which you get used to having a device.

For fussy sleepers and those who are uncomfortable having to carry a CPAP device around, dental devices are the better option. They are much easier to carry, easier to wear, and do not affect the orientation in which you sleep.


Think you or a loved one may be suffering from sleep apnea? Schedule a free consultation at a Dawson Dental clinic near you. With over 25 dentist’s offices around Ontario, you are sure to find one within 15 minutes of you.