What is sleep apnea?
Sleep Apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. If you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, you might have sleep apnea. Snoring is a common sign of sleep apnea, but not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. The best way to know for certain is to talk to your physician or a doctor who specializes in sleep medicine.
Signs and symptoms of sleep apnea?
Talk to your dentist or physician if you:
- snore most or every time you sleep
- wake up feeling tired with the feeling lasting throughout the entire day
- have trouble concentrating or paying attention
- fall asleep during the day at random times and places
- wake up with a headache and/or jaw pain
- wake up with a dry mouth or sore throat
Why snoring happens?
Snoring happens when the muscles in your mouth and/or throat relax and cause your tongue or other soft tissues to block your airway when you’re sleeping. This makes it harder to breathe normally on your own. As you breathe in and out, you make a “snoring” sound when air tries to force its way through your blocked airway.
Snoring could be a sign you have sleep apnea.
If you snore, then you probably already know that it can be an annoying distraction for your bedtime partner. But, snoring could also be a sign of a common sleep-related breathing disorder called sleep apnea (AP-nee-yuh). Sleep apnea occurs when your breathing slows down or stops one or more times when you are sleeping.
This causes our brain to wake our body up so that we can take in a deeper breath and get the right amount of oxygen. You may also take shallow or short breaths while you sleep. This cycle can repeat dozens or even hundreds of times each night. Over time, this can put a lot of physical stress on your body and can lead to serious health problems if it’s not treated - like heart disease or diabetes.
Sleep apnea affects millions of people in the U.S.
These are some of the most common reasons why people may be affected:
- Biology: Enlarged tonsils, a large tongue, or a small or misaligned jaw can raise your risk of sleep apnea.
- Being overweight/obese: Extra weight puts more stress on your body and makes it even harder to breathe normally when you sleep.
- Genetics/family history: If other members of your family have sleep apnea, then you may be affected by it too.
- Men are more affected than women, but it can also occur in women, especially after menopause.
- Smoking and/or drinking alcohol affect your tongue and tissues in your mouth and throat, making it harder to keep your airway open when you sleep.
Discuss treatment options with your dentist and physician.
It’s important that you talk to your primary physician or a doctor who specializes in sleep medicine for an accurate diagnosis of sleep apnea. Then, your dentist can work with them to create a treatment plan that will help improve your quality of sleep and overall health. Treatment options range based on the severity of your sleep apnea.
Common Treatment Options
Changes in your lifestyle, like losing weight and/or avoiding alcohol and tobacco may help to improve or lessen your symptoms.
A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device is worn like a mask while you sleep. It’s connected to a machine that uses a forced stream of air to keep your airway open and help you breathe easier.
Pros: It’s shown to be the most effective way to control sleep apnea.
Cons: The machine can be loud and the mask may feel bulky when trying to sleep, which may make it difficult to use regularly.
Oral appliance therapy is a custom-made oral appliance from your dentist that’s designed to help shift your jaw forward when you sleep. This jaw position prevents your airway from closing. The appliance fits just like a mouth guard for sports or a night guard for clenching or grinding.
Pros: More comfortable to wear and easier than a CPAP device to stick to using every night.
Cons: May not be effective in treating severe cases of sleep apnea.
Upper Airway Surgery may be recommended if these treatment options are not successful for treating your sleep apnea.
Dr. Kevin and Wendy Brafman feel strongly that the first approach to sleep apnea is a discussion with a sleep specialist. Once the level of sleep apnea is determined they will work with the specialist if an oral appliance is recommended for treatment.