Snoring, Sleep Apnea and Your Dentist

Those that suffer from snoring and sleep apnea may benefit from a visit to their dentist.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition that affects over 20 million adults in the United States. It occurs when the relaxation of muscles in the throat during sleep cause blockages to the airway. All muscles relax while we sleep, but in the case of sleep apnea, the relaxation of the muscles and tissue in the throat causes actual blockages to the airway, resulting in lack of oxygen to the brain. During a sleep apnea episode, the brain will attempt to wake the body up to correct the blockage. The person will wake up gasping or choking for air. During the course of the night, a person with sleep apnea may awaken anywhere from 5 to over 30 times. While the person with sleep apnea may not remember these episodes in the morning, they are affecting the person by causing drowsiness throughout the day. Sleep apnea can also lead to other more serious health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, heart attack and stroke.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Many sufferers of sleep apnea are also snorers. Both conditions can lead to lack of sleep (and lack of sleep for anyone sleeping nearby). If you find that you are waking up often feeling unrested even after “sleeping” for 7-10 hours, have headaches, sore jaw, or dry mouth, you may have sleep apnea. The first step is to speak with you doctor about doing a sleep study. Sleep studies can be done in a clinic or at home. The sleep study will let you know if you suffer from sleep apnea and with what severity. Mild sleep apnea is defined as 5-14 interruptions during sleep; moderate is 15-30; severe is over 30.

Treatment of Sleep Apnea

For mild to moderate sleep apnea, a sleeping device may be in order. This can help open your airways during sleep in a non-instrusive way. Your dentist can help you decide if this option is right for you during a clinical examination. During this exam, your dentist will look at your jaw line, occlusion (your bite), and airway. If it is determined that the device would be helpful for you, your dentist will take impressions of your bite, then either send them out to a lab or create the device in the office with a 3-D printer. A sleeping device looks and fits like a sports mouthguard, retainer or night guard. This device not only helps with sleep apnea, but also with teeth grinding.

Many of those afflicted with sleep apnea are also teeth grinders. The teeth grinding (known as bruxism) and tightening of the jaw during sleep is now believed to be a result of your body’s reaction to lack of oxygen, and trying to wake itself up. This stimulates the area, and can cause increased grinding and jaw tightening. Left untreated, teeth grinding can lead to chipped or fractured teeth, gum recession and bone loss–all conditions that eventual can require extensive treatment. Getting the condition under control now can go a long way toward preventing more serious problems in your oral health down the road.

For severe sleep apnea, your doctor will likely prescribe CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Therapy). This type of therapy involves a mask that is attached to a motor and worn at night, that blows air into your airway, preventing it from becoming obstructed.

If you think you may suffer from sleep apnea, speak with your doctor or dentist at your next check-up!