Sleep apnea is a potentially serious disorder that causes breathing to start and stop while you sleep. Sleep apnea is alarmingly common, with men being more likely to develop it than women. Overweight individuals or people aged above 50 are more predisposed to this condition as well. However, children can also develop sleep apnea at a very young age.
There are two main types of sleep apnea:
- The first is central sleep apnea, where your brain fails to signal automatic contraction and relaxation of breathing muscles. This happens due to a dysfunction in the respiratory control center of the brain.
- Obstructive sleep apnea is more common, where your throat closes during sleep (when it should be open to facilitate airflow). It may be caused by either a partial or complete blockage of the upper airway.
When central and obstructive sleep apnea manifest at the same time, this leads to what is called “complex sleep apnea”. These sleep disorders have different causes, but the same effects. Whether you are suffering from either one or a combination of both, the body will sense that your throat, uvula or unresponsive muscles are preventing your breathing.
In response, the brain sends an emergency signal to wake you up and clear the air passage. When breathing resumes, there is often a loud gasp of air or choking snort, sometimes accompanied with a body jerk. These episodes of interrupted breathing can occur anywhere from five to over thirty times in a span of one hour.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive, central and complex sleep apnea all share the same symptoms, which include:
- Episodes of shallow breaths or loud snoring (more common when the upper air passage is partially blocked in obstructive sleep apnea)
- Momentary cessation of breathing during sleep
- Recurrent instances of awakening suddenly from sleep, which may be accompanied with a loud snort, body jerk or shortness of breath
- Restlessness that makes it difficult to fall asleep (insomnia)
- Daytime drowsiness, headaches, and fatigue
- Changes in sleeping position
- Oral dryness, caused by open-mouth breathing during sleep
- Uncharacteristic depression, anxiety, irritability and mood swings
- Increased nighttime perspiration, and in children, bedwetting or night terrors
- Children with sleep apnea may have behavioral or learning disorders
In most cases, individuals suffering from sleep apnea don’t realize it. This disorder is more likely to be identified by a roommate or bed partner.
Dental Treatment for Sleep Apnea
There are several options to treat sleep apnea, and your dentist can help treat it in conjunction with your physician. Complaints of sluggishness, snoring and morning headaches are usually strong indicators of the problem, and the ideal treatment option will depend on the severity of your condition.
For example, behavioral therapy might help reduce bouts of breathing difficulty amongst individuals with mild obstructive sleep apnea. This could involve simple changes such as losing excess body fat, giving up smoking, improving your oral health, and altering your sleeping position.
Severe forms of sleep apnea might require more aggressive treatments such as wearing a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mask or even surgery. However, dental sleep medicine is less risky compared to surgical procedures and offers the best alternative to CPAP as well, which can cause adjustment issues in patients.
How Can a Dental Appliance Help?
If your dental health expert suspects you suffer from this condition, he or she might prescribe the use of a dental appliance for sleep apnea. This custom-fitted oral device shares a resemblance to an athletic mouth guard, but its role is to improve airflow while you sleep, by readjusting the position of your tongue and jaw.
If you notice the symptoms of sleep apnea in a loved one or yourself, seek medical advice from a qualified dentist in San Antonio who specializes in dental sleep medicine. At All About Smiles, Dr. Amruta Patel has extensive experience with treating sleep disorders, so call us for an appointment today!