At least 3% of Canadian adults have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, a condition that causes you to stop breathing for brief periods of time during sleep. If left untreated, sleep apnea can have serious complications, like an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, teeth issues, heart problems, daytime fatigue and more.
The good news is that there are treatment options out there, including sleep apnea dental devices. That’s right - your dentist can help with more than just dental emergencies. We can also help with the treatment of your sleep apnea.
Many patients have questions about sleep apnea and how we can help. Let’s take a closer look at this condition.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that causes you to stop breathing or take very shallow breaths while sleeping. In most cases, breathing stops for a very brief period of time, but it’s just enough to cause sleep disturbances and other issues. For some individuals, breathing can stop for several minutes.
Sometimes, these disruptions are followed by snoring episodes.
There are three types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive (OSA): OSA is the most common form of sleep apnea. It occurs when your throat muscles relax and block your airways.
- Central (CSA): CSA is rare. It occurs when there’s a disruption in the brain’s signals to the breathing muscles. While CSA can occur in anyone, it’s more commonly seen in individuals with a history of strokes, heart attacks and neurological conditions.
- Mixed (or Complex): Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of OSA and CSA.
Understanding what type of sleep apnea you have is the first step to getting the treatment you need.
Causes and Risk Factors of Sleep Apnea
Anyone can develop sleep apnea, but some people are at greater risk of developing this condition than others.
Risk factors of sleep apnea include:
- Family history: Genetics can play a role in whether or not you develop sleep apnea. If you have family members with sleep apnea, you may be at a higher risk of developing it as well.
- Age and gender: Older men are at a higher risk of developing OSA than women, and the risk can increase as you age. That said, it’s important to remember that sleep apnea can still occur in any person of any age.
- Neck circumference: Individuals with larger neck circumferences may be at a higher risk of developing OSA. Excess fat around the neck can put more pressure on your airways, disrupting your breathing patterns.
- Hormonal imbalance: People with conditions like hyperthyroidism and other hormone-related issues may be at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea.
- Neurological conditions: Certain neurological issues can also cause sleep apnea, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
While these factors can increase the risk of sleep apnea, it’s important to remember that it can affect anyone. You may not have any of these risk factors and still develop sleep apnea at some point in your life.
4 Signs That You May Have Sleep Apnea
Snoring is one indication that you may have sleep apnea, but that isn’t the only sign to look for. Here are some other indicators that you may have this sleep disorder:
1. You Wake Up Frequently at Night
Do you find yourself waking up frequently at night? When you wake up are you gasping or choking for air? If so, you may have sleep apnea.
People with sleep apnea may wake up 15-25 times or more an hour and without even knowing it.
2. You Wake Up With a Dry Mouth or Throat
Do you often wake up feeling like you have a dry throat or mouth? You may have sleep apnea. Snoring and struggling to breathe at night can cause a dry or sore throat.
Also, people with this sleep disorder tend to sleep with their mouths open, which can lead to a dry or scratchy throat and mouth or sensitive teeth.
3. You Wake Up With Headaches
Many people with sleep apnea suffer from frequent headaches. The belief is that these headaches are caused by oxygen desaturation, which leads to cerebral vasodilation. If you find yourself waking up with headaches regularly, then this may be a sign of sleep apnea.
4. It Always Feels Like You Never Get Enough Sleep
People with sleep apnea wake up more than a dozen times an hour during sleep. They may only be awake for a few seconds each time, but those seconds add up over time. Frequent disruptions eat into your overall sleep time and may keep you from entering deeper and more restful stages of sleep.
For this reason, people with sleep apnea often feel like they haven’t slept at all, even if they slept for eight hours or more.
Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea
The best way to determine whether you have sleep apnea is to get a sleep study. The signs and symptoms above can give you an idea of whether you have this condition, but only a sleep study can tell you for sure.
If your sleep study shows that you do have this condition, you have quite a few treatment options:
For many patients with OSA, oral appliances are an effective treatment option. These appliances are removable devices that are similar to mouth guards that prevent grinding or lock jaw.
Dental sleep apnea appliances are designed to hold your tongue or jaw in place so that they don’t collapse and obstruct the airway.
Oral appliances are often the first thing that doctors and dentists recommend when treating sleep apnea.
Sleep and Lifestyle Changes
Changing the way you sleep and your lifestyle habits can also go a long way in giving you some relief.
Some patients with OSA find that sleeping on their sides helps. The right mattress and pillow can sometimes help keep the airways open. Other helpful lifestyle changes include:
- Losing body fat
- Exercising regularly
Many patients find that losing weight alone is enough to help their sleep apnea. Weight loss can help alleviate some of the pressure put on your airways at night.
Another way to treat sleep apnea is with a PAP (Positive Airway Pressure) machine. These machines use special masks to promote airflow. CPAP machines are the most common type of PAP machine used to treat sleep apnea.
While effective, PAP machines are bulky and often uncomfortable to sleep with. Some people also experience uncomfortable side effects with CPAP machines, including:
- Dry or sore mouth
- Nasal congestion
- Stomach bloating
- Irritation in the nose
- Chest muscle discomfort
Making adjustments to the CPAP machine is often enough to correct the issue, but some people will experience side effects regardless of these changes.
For some patients, sleep apnea is caused by a deviated septum or inflammation in the throat. Surgery may be recommended to correct the issue, but doctors typically only recommend this treatment as a last resort.
What are the Complications of Sleep Apnea?
Uncontrolled sleep apnea can be a dangerous thing. Several studies have found a link between sleep apnea and serious health conditions, including:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart attacks
- Shorter lifespans
- Metabolic disease
- Weight gain
- Brain fog
- Acid reflux
- Memory loss
- High blood pressure
If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, it’s important to get tested and get a diagnosis as soon as possible to start treating the condition.
How a Sleep Apnea Dentist Can Help
With a condition like sleep apnea, your dentist may not be the first medical professional that comes to mind for treatment. However, we can help aid in your treatment through the help of specialized dental devices.
Some of the devices we use to help treat sleep apnea include:
Mandibular Advancement Devices
Mandibular advancement devices are made of hard, molded plastic, and they’re designed to snap over your upper and lower teeth. These devices have metal hinges and screws that will push your lower jaw forward.
Custom-made devices are ideal because they provide the best fit.
A tongue-retaining device is a soft plastic splint that’s placed around your tongue to hold it forward and out of your mouth at night. While effective, many patients find that these devices are uncomfortable to wear and dry out their mouths.
Depending on the severity of the condition, you may find that a simple mouthguard will do the trick to keep your jaw in the right position and your airways open at night.
The best treatment for your sleep apnea will depend on your individual condition, whether you have any other medical conditions and your personal preference.
If you’re fitted with a dental device, make sure that you come in for checkups regularly to see if any adjustments are needed or if we need to replace your device.
If you ever experience pain or changes in your bite from your device, call us right away. We may be able to make modifications to correct the issue, or we may need to try a different device.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with sleep apnea and are interested in using dental devices for treatment, we’re here to help.
Call us today to book an appointment and discuss your dental appliance needs.