Sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, have become a significant health issue in the United States. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, it is estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, with 80 percent of the cases of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea still undiagnosed.
When left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to a myriad of problems, such as high blood pressure, chronic heart failure, atrial fibrillation, strokes, and even traffic accidents (due to the persistent drowsiness from the chronic failure of not getting a good night’s sleep).
Is there a difference between snoring and sleep apnea?
The first step to effectively treating these conditions is understanding the differences between sleep apnea and snoring. For all those people across the country who are constantly getting nudged or elbowed throughout the night from annoyed bed partners, it’s important to understand what their snoring could mean.
Snoring is the result of tissues in the throat relaxing to the point that they partially block the airway. This blockage causes vibration and, ultimately, the sound you hear when someone is snoring. Snoring can be caused due to being overweight, the position of sleep, and even lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption (as alcohol relaxes your jaw and throat muscles).
Snoring once in a while isn’t usually a serious problem, but if you’re a long-term snorer, you may be hindering your quality of sleep.
When Snoring Could Mean Sleep Apnea
Loud, frequent snoring is one of the first indicators that you or a partner may have sleep apnea. You will also start to notice pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep. When people with sleep apnea fall asleep, they can stop breathing for 10 seconds or more, even up to a minute! This pattern is often followed by gasping or choking, as the person starts to breathe again.
If you or your partner regularly snore loud, stop breathing, gasp or choke during sleep, experience excessive restlessness at night, or feel excessively sleepy during the day, you should definitely address it with your primary care doctor to determine whether a sleep study is necessary.
How Your Dentist Can Detect Signs of Sleep Apnea
In addition to loud snoring and gasping for breath, people with sleep apnea typically have the following issues:
Grind their teeth. Your dentist will be able to see excessive wear on the teeth
Cracked teeth. The pressure on the teeth by clenching your jaw may also cause cracks on the tooth surfaces.
Dry mouth or even a sore throat upon waking up.
Pain in the jaw or teeth.
If you’re not ready to schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor, you should at least ask your dentist for their expert opinion. They will be able to assess oral health cues that can possibly confirm your concern about sleep apnea. Your dentist will then be able to work with you and your doctor in order to provide you with the best treatment plan possible.
Dental Treatment For Minor Sleep Apnea Cases
One way your dentist can help treat minor sleep apnea is by providing you with a specially designed mouth guard that can be worn during sleep. This mouth guard keeps the jaw and tongue in a position where airflow is not obstructed.
Note, although you may be able to find commercially available mouthguards, it is recommended that you consult your dentist or doctor before using any dental device for snoring. This will ensure that you are not self-diagnosing sleep apnea and possibly overlooking other related serious medical condition(s).
It is also important to be aware that in more severe cases of sleep apnea, it will require a doctor’s help. Some advanced treatment options include surgery to correct the obstruction or using a device called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) system.
First Step is to Get Evaluated
If undiagnosed or untreated for a long period of time, sleep apnea can result in a number of serious health problems. If you think you or a partner may be suffering from sleep apnea, we’d encourage you to call us to schedule a time for a dental sleep apnea evaluation. We can assist with your initial assessment and guide you onto a path to improved sleep and overall health!