Sleep affects nearly every aspect of your health and the quality of your life. Getting a good night’s sleep helps you feel alert, look your best, and function well throughout the day. A sleep problem, such as sleep apnea, can prevent you from getting the sleep your body needs. Fortunately, your dentist can provide treatment that helps you overcome sleep apnea and get all the rest your body requires.
Sleep apnea is a condition in which your breathing pauses while you sleep. Pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes. Pauses in breathing may occur 30 times a minute or more.
Sleep apnea prevents you from sleeping well, and repeated pauses in breathing can even drop your oxygen level. You may wake up feeling as tired as when you went to bed. Poor sleep associated with sleep apnea makes you feel sleepy during the day; it can even cause headaches and poor memory. Daytime sleepiness increases your risk for workplace accidents and drowsy driving.
Left untreated, sleep apnea can cause health problems, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Erectile dysfunction
- Chronic acid reflux
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea. In OSA, the muscles in your throat relax when you sleep. The relaxed muscles allow the soft tissue at the back of your mouth and throat to collapse and block your airway.
Signs and symptoms of OSA include snoring and gasping or choking sounds during sleep. Since you are asleep when you have symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, you may not realize you have the condition. In many cases, a bedmate is the first to notice symptoms in people with OSA.
Care for Sleep Apnea – From Your Dentist
Your dentist may be able to provide treatment for your sleep apnea. There are three main treatments for sleep apnea:
- CPAP therapy – you will wear a face mask connected by tubing to a constantly running machine, which pushes air at a high enough pressure to prevent soft tissue collapse
- Oral appliance therapy in which you wear a mouthguard-like device while you sleep
CPAP therapy and surgery are effective in certain cases, but many people find relief from sleep apnea through oral appliance therapy. They find oral appliances more comfortable to wear than CPAP masks, and easier to clean. These appliances are also quiet and portable.
During oral appliance therapy, you will wear an oral appliance only while you sleep. The appliance gently moves your lower jaw forward to open up your airway, and supports your jaw comfortably in this position all night, so you can breathe easy and sleep well.
Dentists work closely with doctors to treat sleep apnea. If you have been diagnosed with the condition, consult with your dental care professional. Your dentist will conduct a clinical evaluation that includes an examination of your mouth, jaw and airways. X-rays may be necessary. Your dentist can then recommend the oral appliance that’s best for you and take digital or physical impressions and models of your teeth.