Sleep Apnea: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments
Sleep Apnea: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments
How can dentistry treat sleep apnea, snoring, and sleep disorders?
Do you snore? Does someone else’s snoring keep you awake at night?
There’s no reason to be embarrassed, as many people snore. However, snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea – a widespread and potentially dangerous sleeping disorder.
You might be wondering:
“What does my dentist have to do with a sleep disorder?”
You may be surprised, but a lot.
A study in the Saudi Medical Journal found that dentists play a crucial role in the diagnosis of sleep apnea through identifying specific tongue indentations and tonsil grades.
Most significantly, dentists provide proven snoring solutions in the form of oral appliances. A randomized trial in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine showed that oral appliances reduce the frequency and severity of snoring in people with mild to severe sleep apnea. 81% of these patients wearing an oral appliance had a moderate to very refreshing sleep compared to 37% in the control group.
To understand how dental treatments can help treat sleep apnea, it’s important to know what the condition is, and the leading causes and symptoms:
Snoring occurs when the tissues in your airways relax and vibrate. While snoring can lead to unfavourable health outcomes, the major problem arises when the tissues loosen enough that they block the upper airway.
The blockage of the airway is known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). People with OSA quite literally stop breathing while they sleep—and this process repeatedly occurs, up to hundreds of times in a single night.
But causes this blockage?
While some people’s throat muscles simply relax too much, there are numerous potential OSA contributors.
One of the most prominent sleep apnea causes is obesity. The Saudi Medical Journal study notes that obese patients are ten times more likely to report OSA because increased fat deposits on the neck weigh on the upper airway and increase the chances of blockage.
Additionally, large tonsils, endocrine disorders, heart or kidney failure, asthma, and genetics all present complications that can block, narrow, or constrict the airway.
Demographics have a surprising role in predisposing people to OSA. While men are much more likely to develop sleep apnea, women can get it too—especially during menopause. It is also common among people of African, Latin, or Native American descent.
Lifestyle can play a role in the development of sleep apnea. Alcohol can relax mouth and throat muscles, while smoking can inflame and constrict the upper airway. Both of these substances also interfere with the brain’s ability to control sleep and the respiratory system.
If you have some of these potential causes, be sure to watch for the symptoms and signs of sleep apnea:
First and foremost, be aware of chronic snoring, choking, snoring, and gasping during sleep. These airway disturbances are known as apnea events—meaning that air is being constricted or cut off.
However, snoring doesn’t always mean that you have sleep apnea. And likewise, if you don’t snore, you could still have the sleep disorder.
The next most pronounced symptoms are constant daytime sleepiness and fatigue. When sleep apnea goes untreated, oxygen levels deplete from the body, resulting in less energy and attentiveness throughout the day. Consequently, the Saudi Medical Journal study relates that individuals with OSA are two to ten times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident.
Other symptoms include waking up with dry mouth or sore throats, anxiety, depression, irritability, and decreased sex drive.
It gets worse:
If untreated, sleep apnea can give way to serious complications. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute cites conditions such as heart attacks, glaucoma, diabetes, cancer, and cognitive and behavioural disorders as potential outcomes.
Another unexpected side effect of sleep apnea is a two-way relationship with insomnia that can exacerbate each disorder’s symptoms. Sleep apnea events increase night-time awakenings, which can be problematic for insomniacs who can’t easily go back to sleep, especially if they are sensitive to disturbing factors at bed-time, such as some OSA treatments.
Unfortunately, the cyclical relationship between these two conditions can have very negative implications for overall health. This issue would already be immense enough, but according to a study in the academic journal, Perceptual and Motor Skills, over 50% of people who have sleep apnea are also insomniacs.
Thankfully, we can design an oral appliance to stave off and end these symptoms. Here’s how it works:
An oral appliance can stop snoring and other sleep apnea events by holding your jaw in a frontward position that stretches out your soft tissue, which keeps it from relaxing and blocking your airflow.
And it works.
Clinical guidelines in the Australian Dental Journal point out numerous randomized controlled trials that have proven the effectiveness of oral appliances for a broad range of OSA severity.
In fact, the guidelines even describe oral appliances as the OSA treatment of choice for many patients because of their portability, ease of use, and comfort—a particularly important factor for people with insomnia, who already have a difficult time falling asleep without apnea treatment. Consequently, it’s not surprising that 99% of patients who used oral appliances in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine study expressed a desire to continue their treatment.
It’s important to note the best approach to sleep apnea requires both the expertise of dentists and doctors, as it is a fluid condition that impacts the body in a variety of ways.
If you can relate to causes and risk factors that relax, constrict, or block the upper airway and experience sleep apnea events, daytime sleepiness, or other sleep apnea symptoms, it’s imperative to seek treatment. Dentistry can offer oral appliances that are effective in treating OSA and are the most comfortable solution—an especially important detail for those with insomnia.
To book a free consultation and learn about the best sleep apnea solution for you, contact us at (780) 425-1646.