Sleep Apnea: What Is It, and How Can Your Dentist Help?

Written by Dr. DeAngelis

When was the last time you slept peacefully through the night? If you have sleep apnea, you probably can’t remember what it feels like to sleep even a few hours at a time, let alone the entire night!

Unfortunately, more than 18 million adults in America suffer from it. This disruptive sleep disorder wreaks havoc on your body’s ability to rest and breathe. It might not sound like a problem your dentist can help treat, so you might be surprised to learn that your dentist can play an integral role in your sleep apnea treatment and recovery process.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

The most common type is known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), causes frequent interruptions to your breathing while you sleep. These pauses in your breathing sometimes last ten seconds or more, during which time your body becomes deprived of oxygen.

When your brain becomes aware of the oxygen deprivation, it triggers your body to rouse from sleep long enough to gasp, choke, or snort for more air. This process keeps you alive and reopens your airways, but the problem begins again as soon as you fall back asleep. Many people experience this cycle up to 30 times per hour, all night long!

Though most people don’t remember briefly waking to cough and gasp for air, the disruptions occur so frequently that they make it nearly impossible to achieve deep, restful sleep.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea develops when the muscles in the back of the throat relax too much. Since those muscles support the tonsils, tongue, and the sidewalls of the throat, excessive relaxation creates very narrow airways that close as you inhale.

As a result, people with OSA can’t get enough air when they breathe in their sleep. The body’s instinct is to cough and gasp for oxygen and attempt to return to sleep, but the problem occurs over and over again until morning.

Men and women of all ages can develop this problem, but certain risk factors make sleep apnea more likely:

  • Being overweight or obese increases the chances since fat deposits around the upper airway contribute to obstructed breathing
  • Smoking increases the risk of sleep apnea since it creates inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway
  • Family history of sleep apnea makes it more likely to inherent conditions that lead to it.

Do I Have Sleep Apnea?

Unlike a broken arm that you can clearly see and diagnose, this is much more difficult to identify, especially if you sleep alone.

The most obvious signs occur while you’re asleep. You could be suffering apnea episodes once every four minutes as you sleep, but you wake up without remembering any of the snoring, choking, and gasping you endured. A spouse or child may be able to observe your habits while sleeping, which can give you a better idea of what’s occurring.

If you regularly experience any of the following sleep apnea symptoms, you should be evaluated for it by a health professional:

  • Extreme daytime fatigue. Even though each pause in breathing only rouses you from your sleep for a few seconds, the constant disruption to your sleep cycle makes it nearly impossible to enter the deep REM sleep that helps you feel rested and rejuvenated. This is why excessive daytime fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea. If you fall asleep at work and feel chronically drowsy, this problem may be to blame.
  • Mood swings. Just like your body can’t function without sleep, neither can your brain. Sleep apnea can cause moodiness, depression, and usual temper problems.
  • Loud snoring. Loud and aggressive snoring is usually a precursor to sleep apnea. If you sleep with a partner, ask about your snoring habits to determine the likelihood of it.

The Dangers of Sleep Apnea

This isn’t just a sleep issue. In addition to the fatigue, inability to concentrate, and irritability that it causes, it also makes your body vulnerable to serious complications.

Heart Problems
Every time you stop breathing in your sleep, your blood oxygen levels drop. This increases blood pressure and places stress on your entire cardiovascular system. As a result, OSA increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and abnormal heartbeats.

Though a sleep disease doesn’t seem related to a blood sugar disease, research shows that having sleep apnea may increase your risk of developing insulin resistance. When your body can’t respond to insulin properly, type 2 diabetes is quick to develop.

The Best Ways to Treat Sleep Apnea

This isn’t a condition that you can ignore and simply hope it disappears. Episodes of apnea become worse and more severe without treatment. If you want to avoid the long-term consequences, it’s essential to receive treatment as soon as possible.

CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Machine)
The CPAP is the most common treatment device. It streams humidified air through the nose to create enough air pressure and keep the throat open while you sleep. This supports steady, uninterrupted breathing without any pauses.

Since the CPAP supports the ability to breathe evenly all night, it helps you achieve a full night of restful sleep. Studies by Johns Hopkins show that patients who don’t wear their CPAP devices experience a significant spike in blood sugar, heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones overnight compared to patients who diligently wear their CPAPs.

Dental Devices
If you have mild to moderate sleep apnea, you can also turn to your dentist for help. CPAP machines are sometimes difficult to use or uncomfortable to wear, so your dentist can provide a mandibular repositioning dental appliance or tongue retaining appliance to bring your jaw forward and stop your tongue from blocking your airway. Many patients feel more comfortable wearing these dental devices than a CPAP, while others like to use both together for maximum results.

This is precisely why Dr. DeAngelis fits her patients with the dental devices best suited to meet their needs. You deserve personalized and compassionate care as you combat your sleep apnea, so call (760) 444-5507 to ask for Dr. DeAngelis’ help in Carlsbad, CA today.


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