Regular visits to your dentist can help ensure that your mouth stays healthy and your smile remains bright. They can also help prevent more serious issues with your teeth from occurring down the road. But did you know that your dentist can also help you treat your obstructive sleep apnea?
A dentist can help to assess your sleep apnea and prescribe an oral appliance that will work to prevent it and its dangerous, potentially deadly effects on your body.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes the sufferer’s breathing to stop and start, resulting in gasping loud snoring, and occasionally, total lack of breathing during sleep. In some cases, it’s caused by the relaxation of throat muscles, and in others, it’s an issue in which the brain fails to send signals to the muscles that aid in breathing.
When sleep apnea is caused by airway obstruction due to throat muscles’ relaxation, it’s known as obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea, and it is the one that your dentist can help you treat.
The other form of sleep apnea is known as central sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea is not caused by an obstructed airway but rather by your brain failing to send the appropriate signals to the muscles that help control your breathing. While there are treatments for this form of sleep apnea, they are not treatments that a dentist can offer you.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Sufferers of sleep apnea often experience at least a few of the following symptoms:
- Gasping for air while sleeping
- Loud snoring
- Instances in which you stop breathing entirely while asleep
- Morning dry mouth and/or headaches
- Difficulty focusing
- Trouble sleeping through the night
- Trouble staying awake during the day
If you experience some or all of these symptoms, speak to a doctor to determine whether or not you suffer from sleep apnea.
Risks of Sleep Apnea
The day-to-day effects of sleep apnea are unpleasant as it is, but you might be surprised to learn just how dangerous the disorder can be. The oxygen-deprivation associated with sleep apnea can lead to a wide variety of potentially deadly health issues, including:
- Heart issues
- High blood pressure
- Abnormal cholesterol levels
- High blood sugar
- Weight gain
- Type-2 diabetes
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and other liver problems
- Increased likelihood of surgery complications
Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
To understand how your dentist can help you with your obstructive sleep apnea, you need to know what causes it. Here are just a few of the known causes:
Obesity. The number one cause of obstructive sleep apnea is being overweight. When your airway is overburdened by excess fat, it can cause it to become obstructed.
Heredity. If you have family members with sleep apnea, your likelihood of having it is significantly increased.
Narrow Airway. Some people, particularly those with thick necks, can have narrower airways, which can make obstructions more likely.
Smoking and Drinking Alcohol. Frequent smoking increases the likelihood of sleep apnea by about 300%, and the sedative effects of alcohol can exacerbate your symptoms.
How Can Your Dentist Help You with Sleep Apnea?
Now that you’ve learned everything you need to know about obstructive sleep apnea, you’re probably wondering how your dentist can help you with sleep apnea treatment. Dentists know the primary causes of sleep apnea and can assess the nature of your disorder to prescribe you one of a few different devices that can help open up your airway, allowing you to sleep better and prevent more serious health complications down the road.
Oral Appliances for Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treatment
The devices used in sleep apnea treatment are known as oral appliances. Providing your obstructive sleep apnea is not caused by obesity; they can generally help alleviate the symptoms of your disorder. Oral appliances are custom designed to adjust the positioning of your jaw or tongue during sleep in order to open up your airways and prevent snoring.
When you make an appointment with your dentist to discuss your sleep apnea, they can assess your symptoms, teeth, and mouth to determine if an oral appliance would be useful in the treatment of your disorder. The oral appliance is then custom-made based on a model of your teeth. The custom design ensures that your oral appliance is not only effective but that it’s comfortable enough for you to sleep with.
Types of Oral Appliances
Mandibular Repositioning Device. A mandibular repositioning device, also known as a mandibular advancement device, looks similar to a mouth guard used in sports, only with separate pieces for the top and bottom rows of your teeth. These devices adjust the bottom jaw in order to prevent the muscles that cause sleep apnea from collapsing. Mandibular repositioning devices are often made to be adjustable so that the patient can maximize both comfort and efficacy.
Tongue Stabilizing Device. While the mandibular repositioning device is the more common oral appliance for sleep apnea treatment, tongue stabilizing, or tongue retaining, devices have been found to be an effective solution for a wider range of mouths. Tongue stabilizing devices are a small plastic mouthpiece intended to gently restrain the tongue so it can’t obstruct the airway.
Hybrid Devices. A hybrid device combines both methods of sleep apnea prevention from the previous two devices. It gently restrains the tongue while lightly shifting the jaw forward in order to open up the airway and prevent obstruction.