What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common sleep issue that affects millions of Americans all across the nation. Essentially, sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that occurs when your body’s muscles relax during sleep and block or obstruct your airways.
This then leads to the reduction of airflow and even complete pauses in breathing that can last from 10-30 seconds. These 10-30 second periods are not only disruptive to your sleep, but it can lower your blood oxygen saturation levels to an extremely dangerous point.
Sleep apnea can be extremely dangerous. Your brain responds to the distinct lack of oxygen in your blood by temporarily waking up your body, energizing the muscles in your throat to allow for normal breathing. The sleep you get when you suffer from sleep apnea is far from restful. Most people who suffer from sleep apnea choose to use a CPAP machine in order to help their body breathe, but there are other ways to help your body get restful sleep.
Sleep apnea comes with a slew of visible symptoms, though if you sleep alone these symptoms can be hard to notice. The most easily recognizable symptom is when you wake up gasping for air after loudly snoring. This can happen hundreds of times over the course of a given night, causing extreme disruptions to your normal sleep schedule. If you notice gasping, loud snoring, choking, or snorting sounds when you or one of your loved ones is sleeping, make sure that you get checked out immediately.
Sleep Apnea Treatment Options
Continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP machines are the most commonly prescribed treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. A CPAP machine is worn over the nose (and sometimes mouth) to deliver a continuous flow of air into the throat during sleep. This helps keep the upper airway open to prevent cessations in breath.
However, CPAP machines are widely regarded as uncomfortable, noisy and disruptive. Many patients dislike the thought of wearing a mask during sleep. It is not uncommon to experience a sore throat, runny nose, dry nose or facial skin irritation after using a CPAP machine. The machines have also been criticized for shifting during sleep and being bulky and difficult to pack for traveling.
As a modern alternative to a CPAP machine, oral appliances can be worn to keep the airway open during sleep. These customized appliances fit like a mouth guard or an orthodontic retainer. There are two primary types of appliances: tongue-retaining devices or mandibular-repositioning devices. The oral appliances hold the lower jaw or tongue in a forward position to prevent tissues from collapsing back into the throat and blocking the airway during sleep.
Benefits of Oral Appliances for Sleep Apnea
More patients are turning to oral appliance therapy for the treatment of sleep apnea because the devices are slim, lightweight and easy to wear. There is no need to tolerate forced air or feel claustrophobic wearing a mask. Oral appliances do not make any noise, require any electricity or disrupt sleep. They are small enough to fit into a purse or briefcase and can be easily transported for traveling. Oral appliances are easy to acclimate to and do not lead to complaints of a stuffy nose, dry mouth or sore throat.
Are You a Candidate for Oral Appliance Therapy?
You may be a candidate for oral appliance therapy if your obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a narrow airway, a large tongue or a tongue that is prone to falling back into the throat while you sleep.
Sleep Apnea Treatment Details
If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea after a sleep study, Dr. Pearson can discuss whether you are suited to oral appliance therapy. Fitting you for an oral appliance involves taking some impressions of your teeth and mouth and sending them to a dental laboratory, where the device is constructed. Once the oral appliance is ready, Dr. Pearson has you try it on in your mouth to check the fit and feel. If you need minor adjustments made, she can usually complete them on the spot.
Frequently Asked Questions about Sleep Apnea
What causes obstructive sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airway is blocked by the collapse of the soft tissues in the rear of the throat.
What are the signs of sleep apnea?
Signs of obstructive sleep apnea include the following:
- Loud, persistent snoring
- Repeated choking or gasping noises during sleep
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Routinely waking up with a headache, sore throat or stuffy nose
- Irritability and mood swings
- Concentration or memory problems
Why do dentists treat sleep apnea?
Dentists like Dr. Pearson are often the first to identify signs or risk factors for sleep apnea during routine oral exams.
Once sleep apnea has been diagnosed by a sleep specialist, Dr. Pearson can design and create a custom oral appliance that helps keep the airway clear during sleep. She provides complete instructions for how to use and clean the device.
What happens if sleep apnea is left untreated?
Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can have serious consequences to physical and mental health. Patients are at risk of the following:
- Heart attacks and heart disease
- Motor vehicle or workplace accidents due to excessive exhaustion
- Depression or anxiety
- Poor performance at work or in school
No two cases of sleep apnea are entirely the same, and oftentimes the treatment plans for different patients varies wildly. Here at Essentially Pure Dentistry, we create fully customized treatment plans for each of our sleep apnea patients to get the best possible results in the shortest treatment times. Stop losing sleep and start feeling rested today with the sleep apnea treatment program here at Essentially Pure Dentistry.