Sleep apnea may not seem like a heavyweight condition, but its effects can have an impact on your daily life in ways that you may not have necessarily considered. As a start, it could affect the quality of your sleep, which has almost too many consequences to list. At a further level, it could even result in life-threatening conditions.
Like many other sleep disorders, surprisingly enough, oral health plays an important role So, if you are among the 18 million sufferers of sleep apnea, you may want to consider bringing your dentist into your circle of medical professionals on the topic. Here are some of the reasons why.
Sleep Apnea Explained
The central premise of sleep apnea is the regular interrupting of breathing during sleep, and the condition has one of two main types. These include obstructive sleep apnea, where the airflow is blocked during sleep. Generally, this happens when the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapses during sleep, and is the more common of the two types. The second main type of sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, occurs when there is a problem with the brain and its relationship with the breathing muscles. This version of sleep apnea is generally an after effect of other serious conditions. These include heart failure, brain tumors, brain infections, and strokes.
To clear things up, sleep apnea can affect anyone, but there are several factors that can increase the likelihood of developing this disorder. These include:
- Weight, especially more fat around their upper airways (nose, throat and mouth) are at increased risk.
- Age, especially above the age of 60.
- Being male, as they are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea than females.
- Small or unusually-shaped airways in the nose, throat or mouth.
- Family history.
- Alcohol or sedative use.
Part of the reason that a dentist is so valuable when it comes to sleep apnea is that generally, they will be the first to notice. Most initial symptoms of sleep apnea aren’t detectable at first. For example, the most common symptom is feeling tired during the day. This is due to the fact that the body is roused each time the oxygen level drops low enough due to blockage, sometimes even without noticing. Someone sleeping with you may be able to notice issues, especially if you are snoring heavily as a result of your apnea. However, there’s no guarantee that they will be able to notice that apnea is behind it.
The other starter symptoms of sleep apnea, though, are related to oral health. Oftentimes, one of the first indicators is jaw pain, caused by temporomandibular joint disorders, more commonly known as TMJ or TMD. This is due to the fact that when the throat relaxes before an apnea episode, the jaw clamps down to prevent tissue from blocking the airway. This puts stress on the jaw, mouth, neck and shoulders. Other dental issues stemming from sleep apnea can include dry mouth, teeth grinding, and even tooth loss. In fact, a spike in cavities may be an indicator of sleep apnea, because of the force of grinding teeth damages teeth, making them susceptible to cavity-causing bacteria.
While these can be uncomfortable to deal with, it’s often preferable to catch sleep apnea at this point rather than leave it untreated. At its worst, consequences of sleep apnea include:
- Increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes
- Increase the risk of, or worsen, heart failure
- Make arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, more likely
- Increase the chance of having work-related or driving accidents
What Can A Dentist Do?
As is fitting for someone on the first line of defense against sleep apnea, your dentist can also be a major figure in helping you deal with this condition. If you are lucky, a minor version of sleep apnea can be resolved with something as simple as shifting your position when sleeping. Sometimes, lifestyle changes may help you with your sleep apnea, like losing weight or quitting smoking. Failing this, your dentist will be in the best position to intervene.
Generally, your dentist will recommend some sort of oral appliance to wear while you sleep. This allows you to shift and support your jaw to prevent the airway without collapsing. If the situation is more severe, you may need a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) system. This device delivers air through a small mask and applies constant pressure to keep the air way open. In the most extreme circumstances, you may need surgery, though you will want a second opinion on top of your dentist before doing that.
If you think this is a potential option for your issue, or just want to learn more, contact a dentist and ask today if you are a good candidate for taking a dental approach to your sleep apnea or using it to complement your other approaches.