Do you wake up feeling like you need to go back to bed? Have you been told that you snore throughout the night? Is staying focused at work or school difficult? If you answered yes to these questions, you may have sleep apnea. Some estimates report that 18 million people have some form of sleep apnea.
While you will need a sleep study for an official diagnosis, your dentist can help minimize your symptoms and get some rest.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a serious sleep condition that affects your oxygen levels. More specifically, sleep apnea affects your ability to breathe while you sleep. While you sleep, your breathing stops completely. The pauses can vary from a few seconds to a couple of minutes at a time. Additionally, you can stop breathing hundreds of times a night. Unfortunately, your body is unable to get any meaningful rest.
The more common form of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). With OSA, the soft tissues in the mouth and throat can block the airway. Another way this can happen is due to the size of your tongue or your jaw. Anything that can obstruct your airway while you sleep.
Once your body realizes it is low on oxygen, it will fight to rouse you. You may wake to gasp for breath, or you may not fully wake up. You may not be aware of your snoring or lack of breathing. If you wake feeling tired or with a dry mouth, it could be a sign of sleep apnea. Also, you may find it hard to concentrate or stay awake throughout the day. It is common to experience headaches with sleep apnea.
People with sleep apnea are at a higher risk of developing other chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease. Additionally, those with sleep apnea may have a weakened immune system over time.
What Can A Dentist Do?
Although a dentist may be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea, you need an official diagnosis from a medical doctor or sleep institution. Your dentist may recommend that you undergo a sleep study in order to identify your sleep disorder.
If you have a mild to moderate case of obstructive sleep apnea, your dentist may be able to provide you with an alternative treatment option. The go-to choice to treat sleep apnea is a CPAP machine. This device provides a steady stream of oxygen that keeps your airway open. However, some patients do not like certain elements of the CPAP machine and desire a quieter, more travel-friendly option.
Your dentist can provide you with oral appliance therapy (OAT). OAT is a device that you place in your mouth at night. To avoid blocking your airway, the appliance will prevent the soft tissues from falling in the way. OAT aligns the jaw and keeps the tongue in its proper place. This will keep you from snoring and losing oxygen while you sleep. Finally, you will be able to get a restful night’s sleep.