Do you ever wonder if you’re getting a “good night’s sleep?” Medical professionals harp on the importance of sleep, but how do you know if you’re getting a sufficient quality of rest each night? If you find yourself struggling to get out of bed and dragging through your days with constant fatigue, it’s possible you have sleep apnea, and you just haven’t realized it yet.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) affects 22 million Americans, and 80 percent of those suffering from sleep apnea go undiagnosed.
Other telling signs of OSA are loud snoring during sleep or waking up gasping for air.
What should you do if you think you might suffer from sleep apnea? Talk to your dentist.
If that sounds like unexpected advice, consider this: who knows more about mouths than a dentist?
Dentists are uniquely positioned to diagnose and treat sleep apnea. They have intimate knowledge of how the structures of the mouth and face work together to promote or hinder breathing.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is what happens when a person experiences pauses in breathing during sleep. Sometimes the pauses cause people to wake up gasping for air. Others experience very loud snoring, among other symptoms like XYZ.
With sleep apnea, the airway becomes almost or completely blocked for brief periods during sleep. As a result, airflow to the rest of the body gets restricted. Some stop breathing for at least ten seconds at a time, hundreds of times per night.
Often this causes poor quality of sleep and reduced oxygen supply to the brain, which makes it difficult to function during the day. That lack of oxygen means your body doesn’t get the restorative benefits of a good night’s sleep.
Sleep apnea is more common in men than in women, though the risk increases for postmenopausal women. It is closely linked to severe health problems such as obesity, heart disease, and stroke.
Types of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is divided into three types: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea (CSA), and complex sleep apnea syndrome (CSAS).
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea. It occurs when throat muscles relax or when the weight on the upper chest or neck blocks airflow. OSA is typically associated with obesity.
Central sleep apnea occurs because the brain doesn’t send the necessary signal to the diaphragm that tells it to contract and expand. The diaphragm is the muscle that controls your breathing.
Complex sleep apnea syndrome is a combination of OSA and CSA. This is also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea. It occurs when a person suffers from both OSA and CSA.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
The most obvious symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring and gasping for air during sleep. There are many other symptoms that can clue you in as to whether you might benefit from sleep apnea screening.
These additional symptoms include the following:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness or hypersomnia
- Awakening with a dry mouth
- Experiencing a headache upon waking in the morning
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Difficulty focusing or paying attention while awake
- Increased irritability
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it is a good idea to consider getting screened for sleep apnea as soon as possible.
Why It’s Important to Treat Sleep Apnea
It may not seem like a big deal, but sleep apnea has become a growing health concern among medical professionals. Sleep apnea has been linked to several other potentially fatal health conditions.
Most commonly, obstructive sleep apnea is associated with obesity and excess weight. But the link between sleep apnea and severe health conditions doesn’t end there.
Research shows that about half of sleep apnea patients have high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases your risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
Left untreated, OSA, the most common type of sleep apnea, can lead to chronic heart failure, atrial fibrillation, arrhythmia, and stroke. It is associated with type 2 diabetes and depression.
Sleep apnea makes you so drowsy it is unsafe to operate a vehicle. The lack of oxygen sufferers of sleep apnea experience during sleep inhibits their ability to focus and function during the day. For this reason, sleep apnea is a factor in many traffic and heavy machinery accidents.
Why Consult With Your Dentist About Sleep Apnea?
Dental health professionals are uniquely suited to screen and treat sufferers of sleep apnea because of their intimate understanding of how the muscles, bones, tissues, and ligaments of the mouth and face work together to promote or hinder breathing.
Dentists also know their patients’ health histories and the physical markers associated with sleep apnea. A highly-trained dentist can identify the underlying problems associated with sleep apnea and recommend the best course of treatment.
It is important for a dentist to diagnose you with sleep apnea sooner than later, as this diagnosis can save you from serious health conditions in the future.
Testing for Sleep Apnea
There are two different options for getting tested for sleep apnea. One involves staying overnight for observation at a clinic. The other is an at-home sleep test.
The clinic version of the sleep apnea screening is called Nocturnal Polysomnography. For this test, you’ll visit a sleep clinic and spend the night there. The medical staff will hook you up to equipment that monitors your heart, lungs, and brain, as well as your breathing, movement, and oxygen levels while you sleep.
The idea of sleeping in a clinic during these tests can be daunting or uncomfortable for some. There is also the option of doing an at-home sleep test. In this scenario, you’ll use simplified versions of the sleep tests. These tests typically measure heart rate, airflow, breathing patterns, and blood oxygen levels.
Although it can be more comfortable to do a sleep test at home, it is most effective to have your sleep monitored by a health professional.
Sleep Apnea Treatments & Therapies
Once diagnosed with sleep apnea, you’ll want to seek treatment or therapy for your condition in order to prevent serious health risks down the road.
For a mild case of sleep apnea, you may need to make changes to your lifestyle. Losing weight, quitting smoking, and addressing allergies are some of the lifestyle changes commonly recommended to sufferers of mild OSA.
Dentists can also fit you for nightguards and nightlase to help open your airway while you sleep. These noninvasive options often help sleep apnea patients quickly and simply.
If your sleep apnea is moderate to severe, it’s likely you would most benefit from Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), a machine that delivers air pressure via a mask you wear while you sleep.
CPAP is the most common and reliable treatment for sleep apnea. The air pressure from the machine is greater than that of the air surrounding you. It keeps your airway passages open and prevents sleep apnea and snoring. You can also get fit for a CPAP machine by your dentist.
Get Treated For Sleep Apnea in Richmond, VA
You won’t regret finding out if you’re one of the millions of Americans at risk of serious health consequences related to sleep apnea.
Schedule a screening today and get the peace of mind you deserve.