Are you drowsy during the day with no explanation? Do you snore loudly or wake up breathless in the middle of the night? If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you may be one of more than 12 million Americans who are affected by sleep apnea.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition in which your breathing stops periodically during sleep, as many as 20-30 times per hour. Each time you stop breathing in your sleep, the resulting lack of oxygen alerts your brain, which temporarily wakes you up to restart proper breathing. Since the time spent awake is so brief, most people with sleep apnea don’t remember it, and many feel like they are getting a good night’s sleep when, in fact, they are not. The constant wake-sleep, wake-sleep cycle prevents those with sleep apnea from achieving deep sleep, resulting in a constant drowsy feeling during the day.
Nasal breathing versus mouth breathing….is there a difference?
Yes, and the difference is significant. To mouth breath, the mouth must be open with the tongue resting low. These dysfunctional oral rest postures of the lips and tongue encourage a multitude of growth and development problems in children, as well as overall health problems. Simply put if the tongue does not habitually rest on the palate and a child breathes through his mouth, craniofacial development is negatively impacted. Children with dysfunctional oral rest postures and who mouth breathe are more likely to have crowded teeth, small jaws, inadequate tongue room, large tonsils and adenoids, gingivitis, dental caries, and long face syndrome. Additionally, they may also be at greater risk for a wide range of health problems such as allergies, asthma, and disordered breathing issues during sleep, including obstructive sleep apnea. Additionally, nasal breathing confers numerous health benefits that mouth breathing does not. Breathing through the nose filters the air to remove particulates and allergens, and warms and humidifies the air. The paranasal sinuses produce a gas called nitric oxide, a potent vasodilator that is lethal to both bacteria and viruses when air is inhaled through the nose. Nitric oxide also facilitates increased oxygen absorption by the blood, so mouth breathers actually deliver less oxygen to their own blood than nasal breathers.
Baxter, Richard, et al. Tongue-Tied: How a Tiny String under the Tongue Impacts Nursing, Feeding, Speech, and More. Alabama Tongue-Tie Center, 2018. "23/Nasal Breathing versus Mouth Breathing....is There a Difference?"
What are the signs of sleep apnea?
The following symptoms can indicate the presence of sleep apnea. If you notice one or more of these, contact our practice.
- Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- Loud snoring at night
- Waking up at night short of breath
- Snorting or choking sounds during the night (indicating a restart of breathing)
- Headaches upon waking in the morning
- Falling asleep unintentionally during the day
- Extreme drowsiness throughout the day
Are there different types of sleep apnea?
There are three categories of sleep apnea. The most common is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and occurs due to a physical blockage, usually the collapsing of the soft tissue in the back of the throat. Less common is central sleep apnea (CSA), in which breathing stops because the muscles involved don’t receive the proper signal from the brain. And some people suffer from “mixed” or “complex” sleep apnea, which is a combination of obstructive and central.
What are risk factors for sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in males than females, and more common in older adults (40+) than younger adults and children. However, anyone — regardless of gender or age — can suffer from sleep apnea. Other risk factors include obesity, smoking, drinking, use of sedatives or tranquilizers, and family history. Central sleep apnea strikes most often in people with heart disorders, neuromuscular disorders, strokes, or brain tumors.
Is sleep apnea dangerous?
Sleep apnea is considered a serious medical problem and if left untreated it can lead to high blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart failure and stroke. The ongoing state of fatigue caused by sleep apnea can lead to problems at work or school, as well as danger when driving or operating heavy machinery. Sleep apnea can also cause complications with medication or surgery; sedation by anesthesia can be risky, as can lying flat in bed after an operation. If you know or suspect you suffer from sleep apnea, let your family doctor know before taking prescribed medication or having surgery.
How is sleep apnea treated?
Treatments for sleep apnea depend on the severity of each individual case, and the type of apnea. Basic treatment can be behavioral — for instance, patients are instructed to lose weight, stop smoking, or sleep on their sides instead of on their backs. Beyond that, oral devices can be used to position the mouth in such a way that prevents throat blockage. In more severe cases, surgery may be the best option.
We follow American Dental Association’s Proposed Policy Statement on the Role of Dentistry in the Treatment of Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders which can be found here.
What should I do if I suspect that someone in my family suffers from sleep apnea?
Contact our practice, and we can refer you to a sleep apnea specialist. The specialist may recommend a sleep study to diagnose the precise extent of the problem, and can prescribe appropriate treatment. Depending on your situation, treatment may involve an oral device that we can custom-create for you.
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You Are Not Alone!
Look at this compiled list of 19 Celebrities with Sleep Apnea!
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