A Detailed Look at Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a common medical condition affecting an estimated 10 percent of the population. The word apnea is Greek for “want of breath”, and sleep apnea refers to air failing to get into the lungs as you sleep. This results in multiple stresses on the body, and you may wake up with a headache and feel exhausted during the day.
Sleep apnea also increases the risk of developing other serious medical conditions, and in severe cases can cause an individual to fall asleep in the daytime with little or no warning – like narcolepsy.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
There are different forms of sleep apnea, including central sleep apnea (CSA) and mixed sleep apnea (MSA), also known as complex sleep apnea syndrome. However, the most prevalent type of sleep apnea is OSA – obstructive sleep apnea. So that’s what we’ll be looking at in detail in this post.
- What causes obstructive sleep apnea.
- The warning signs of sleep apnea.
- Whether you’re at greater risk of sleep apnea.
- How OSA is linked to other medical complaints.
- How OSA is treated.
- The benefits of oral sleep appliances.
- Advantages of custom sleep appliances from your Coeur d’Alene dentist.
What Causes OSA?
While central sleep apnea is caused by a malfunction in how the brain controls breathing, obstructive sleep apnea is a physical problem. OSA is most common among people aged over 55 and twice as prevalent in men. Bouts of OSA typically happen after loud snoring. They entail repeated pauses in breathing that may last a few seconds or far longer, and this can occur hundreds of times during a single night.
As we sleep, our body relaxes, and that includes throat muscles. This narrowing of the airway can cause snoring. If your throat closes entirely, you temporarily stop breathing. This can result in your brain and the rest of your body being starved of oxygen, and you momentarily wake up sputtering and gasping for air.
OSA can be caused by:
- A small airway.
- Large tongue.
- Small lower jaw.
- Enlarged tonsils.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
You may not realize you have sleep apnea until someone you live with draws your attention to the problem.
Common symptoms of OSA that may be noticed by your partner while you sleep are:
- Loud snoring.
- Gasping for breath.
- Tossing and turning.
Symptoms you may become aware of yourself in the daytime include:
- Persistent fatigue.
- Waking up with a headache.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Being short-tempered or feeling miserable.
Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea
You’re more likely to develop sleep apnea – or aggravate an existing problem – if you:
- Sleep on your back.
- Are overweight.
- Drink alcohol.
- Take sedatives.
- Take medication that relaxes the throat muscles.
- Have blocked nasal passages from a cold or flu.
Although allergies don't directly cause OSA, seasonal nasal congestion can lead to longer and more frequent pauses in breathing if you have the condition.
Lack of quality sleep due to OSA can trigger both physical and emotional complications. During normal sleep, the body maintains your physical health and ensures optimal brain function, but sleep deficiency can impair your ability to heal yourself and hinder cognitive functionality. Your body’s immune system relies on sleep to operate effectively in fighting infections. And health experts at Harvard Medical School say quality sleep helps to promote emotional and mental resilience.
Persistent lack of sleep can put you at greater risk of:
- High blood pressure.
- Heart disease.
- Kidney problems.
- Liver issues.
- Sexual dysfunction.
Many people who have sleep apnea also suffer from nocturnal bruxism, grinding their teeth during sleep. Research has found that people deprived of sleep through OSA may be up to 12 times more likely to be involved in a traffic collision.
How is Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treated?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a long-term condition that in many cases requires treatment for life.
Treatments to rectify abnormal breathing while sleeping include:
- Oral appliance therapy (OAT), which keeps the airway open by moving the lower jaw forward and preventing the tongue from folding backwards.
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) – a machine that keeps your airway open by providing a constant supply of compressed air through a breathing mask.
- Jaw surgery – generally a last resort when sleep apnea has failed to respond to other treatments.
Sleep apnea can also be treated by making lifestyle changes such as:
- Stopping smoking.
- Losing excess weight.
- Getting more exercise.
- Cutting back on alcohol consumption.
A humidifier and essential oils in the bedroom may also be beneficial.
Benefits of Oral Appliance Therapy for Sleep Apnea
Oral sleep appliances such as mandibular advancement devices (MAD) fit over your teeth like a gum shield and provide effective treatment for mild to moderate sleep apnea. They also avoid surgery or use of a CPAP machine. These devices can feel claustrophobic and cause side effects including nasal congestion or a runny nose, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Other benefits of oral appliance therapy compared with CPAP include:
- Comfortable, convenient and quiet treatment.
- Ease of use.
- Portability – convenient for travel.
- Usually less costly than CPAP.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM)), oral appliances provide an effective alternative to CPAP for individuals who can’t tolerate or simply don’t want to use a continuous positive airway pressure machine.
Oral Sleep Appliances from Your CDA dentist
Unlike mass-produced over-the-counter mouthpieces for sleep apnea, oral sleep appliances from Coeur d’Alene dentist CDA Dental will fit precisely because they’re made from an impression of your mouth. This means more effective and comfortable treatment.
First, we’ll assess your mouth and jaw to ensure they’re healthy enough for an oral sleep appliance. Then models of your teeth will be made, and a follow-up appointment scheduled to make sure the device fits properly. Custom oral sleep appliances are adjustable, and your CDA dentist can work with you to maintain optimal jaw position by monitoring your progress. It generally takes only a few days to adjust to wearing an oral appliance all night while sleeping. Oral sleep appliances are usually covered by health insurance plans instead of dental plans.