What is Sleep Apnea and How do I Know if I Have it?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a very common, often undiagnosed and serious sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing during sleep. The airway repeatedly becomes blocked by your tongue and relaxed upper airway muscles, limiting the amount of air that reaches your lungs. When this happens, you may clench your teeth to move your tongue out of your throat, snore loudly or making choking noises as you try to force air out of your lungs and breathe. Your brain and body become oxygen deprived, you become acidic due to high levels of carbon dioxide and you may wake up. This may happen a few times a night, or in more severe cases, several hundred times a night.
As you fall asleep, the muscles of the upper airway relax. The narrowed airway causes snoring by making the tissue in back of the throat vibrate as you breathe, especially when you sleep on your back.
Do You Always Wake Up Tired?
People with sleep apnea often wake up in the morning feeling tired or unrefreshed even though they have had a full night of sleep. Daytime fatigue and lack of ability to concentrate often result in automobile accidents and impaired ability to perform tasks at work or school.
Even though there may not be an awareness of the awakening, the cumulative effects can be debilitating.
The lack of oxygen your body receives, the pressure on your internal organs and the damage to your hard and soft tissues of your mouth and throat can have negative long-term consequences for your health. This includes:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Pre-diabetes and diabetes
- Heartburn & Gastric reflux disease (GERD)
- A worsening of your condition from snoring to sleep apnea if left untreated
- Increase in decay and tooth fracture
- Increased incidence of periodontal disease
Do You Want to Snore No More?
Obstructive sleep apnea in adults is considered a sleep-related breathing disorder. Causes and symptoms differ for obstructive sleep apnea in children and central sleep apnea. ( See Pediatric Airway)
If the obstruction of the airway is in the nose instead of the mouth, dental sleep appliance therapy is often ineffective. This is why careful diagnosis and treatment planning is essential for the optimal treatment of the patient. Three dimensional imaging known as cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) is invaluable in visualizing airway restrictions and recommending appropriate treatment for the patient with sleep related breathing disorders and is available at our clinic at Synergy Dental Solutions.
How Can I Tell if I Have Sleep Apnea or if I am Just Snoring?
Only a sleep medicine physician can diagnose obstructive sleep apnea using an in-lab sleep study or a home sleep apnea test, but a trained dental team is often a the front line opportunity for screening and education based on their access to visualize the mouth and tongue. Many signs of sleep apnea are visible by observing the condition of the teeth and the relationship of the tongue to the soft palate.
Severe sleep apnea is best managed using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. Dental devices, or oral appliance therapy, are considered the front-line treatment for mild and moderate obstructive sleep apnea.
Surgical options are sometimes necessary for the treatment of some patients with more severe airway restrictions. Weight management is also considered as a primary treatment for obstructive sleep apnea and is often much easier once your body receives support of your airway during sleep as the levels of your stress hormone cortisol are reduced. This happens as a result of your body not feeling “stressed out” during your sleep as a result of you struggling for air.That is a question that only a sleep medicine physician can answer through sophisticated testing and data analysis.
However, our Snore No More assessment is fairly accurate at determining those who are at risk for having obstructive sleep apnea as compared to those who are primary snorers. If you'd like to take a test, please complete the Watermark Medical ARES Questionnaire and bring it to our office for your appointment.
For more information on sleep related issues, visit Sleep Education.