Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which a person continually stops and resumes breathing during their sleep. This occurs because the walls in the throat close up, blocking the patient’s airway and leading to snoring. Sleep apnea can be mild, moderate, or severe, with severe cases causing a patient to stop breathing for as much as 100 times in one hour.
This continual stopping and restarting of the breath deprives the brain of oxygen, leading to many issues such as an inability to feel well-rested and alert, causing headaches, and increasing a person’s risk of many serious health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke or heart attack, and high blood pressure.
While there are three types of sleep apnea, known as obstructive, central, and complex, it is obstructive sleep apnea that is the most common. This type of sleep apnea is caused by a relaxation of the throat muscles which narrows or completely closes the airway.
You will briefly wake up when your brain senses that you are not breathing. As this happens repeatedly throughout the night, your quality of sleep is significantly impaired and you may have difficulty concentrating or remembering things.
How is it
Sleep apnea is typically diagnosed through testing performed during a sleep study. Monitors are hooked up to you through wires and will detect if and when you stop breathing during your sleep, for how long, and how often. It’s important to first rule out other medical possibilities and exams can be performed to look for abnormalities that could be blocking your airway when you sleep.
A dentist can notice the signs of sleep apnea in patients because of our familiarity with human anatomy and detecting issues like teeth grinding. We can take x-rays to reveal abnormally large tissues that may be blocking your airway.
The following are signs that you have sleep apnea:
- Difficulty with concentration
- Memory problems
- Dry mouth or throat in the morning
- Loud snoring
- Waking up feeling like you are gasping for air or choking
- Frequent awakenings throughout the night
- Depression or anxiety
- Frequent urination throughout the night
- Jaw pain
If you are experiencing these symptoms, contact us at Patrick Stuckey, DDS today to schedule an appointment with Dr. Patrick Stuckey. We can perform an oral exam and conduct x-rays to detect signs of sleep apnea and develop a treatment.
While severe sleep apnea is best treated with the use of a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine that supplies a continuous flow of oxygen through a mask, it can be very uncomfortable and awkward to sleep with.
Patients may feel claustrophobic, distracted by the loud noise the machine produces, and be uncomfortable if they are used to sleeping on their side. Thankfully there are a variety of more comfortable oral appliances that can be used to treat sleep apnea, such as a tongue-retaining device or a mandibular advancement splint.
A tongue retaining device will keep your airway open by pushing your tongue forward so it is not blocking your airway (for patients who have an enlarged tongue). Mandibular advancement splints keep your airway open by shifting your lower jaw forward.