Sleep Apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders in the United States.
It affects nearly 7-8% of the total population of the US.
Though the reason for this is not yet determined, there are many factors that contribute to it like obesity, stress, etc.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is defined as “a chronic condition characterized by frequent episodes of upper airway collapse during sleep.”
In other words, it is the obstruction of breathing caused during sleep due to the collapse of the upper airway (nasal pathway).
There may be many apnea episodes in a single sleep or night.
This may lead to complex oral problems that can be alleviated by a dentist.
Symptoms of sleep apnea that are manifested as dental problems are as follows:
- Nocturnal Bruxism (clenching teeth during sleep)
- Worn, cracked or broken teeth.
- Shoulder pain and/or headaches
- Locking of the jaw
- Tooth and jaw pain – especially while chewing
Sleep Apnea is not essentially a dental problem. Dental problems are the consequences of sleep apnea.
Some of the other common symptoms of sleep apnea are:
- Frequent headaches in the mornings
- Snoring which is so loud that disturbs your sleep.
- Choking or gasping at night
- Chest pain at night
- A Sore throat in the morning
- Waking up tired in the morning (stress not being the reason)
- Extreme sleepiness in the daytime
How are these problems caused?
When you go to sleep, each part of the body starts to relax. Even the throat begins to relax.
Sometimes, this leads to the collapse of the airway and reduces the amount of air going to the lungs.
As a natural reaction to this, the body reacts to this with a “Fight or Flight response” where naturally the jaw tries to prevent the throat tissue from blocking the airway.
This compensation beyond the requirement puts excessive pressure on the jaws causing symptoms like snoring and bruxism, causing the above mentioned dental problems.
Factors contributing to Sleep Apnea
While the exact reason for sleep apnea is not known, there are a few factors that have proven to be contributing to the symptoms of sleep apnea.
- Stress – Stress is one main factor contributing to a number of sleep problems.
- Obesity and excessive weight – Obesity leads to gaining of mass in the soft tissue of mouth and throat (as in any other part of the body). This increases the risk of obstruction of the air pathway.
- Breathing problems like asthma – Not only asthma but also common cold sometimes may cause sleep apnea, due to obvious obstacles in the nasal and air paths (due to deposition of mucous membrane).
How can a dentist help?
People visit a dentist more frequently than a doctor. So, a vigilant dentist may help to detect and alleviate the early symptoms of sleep apnea.
Your dentist may want to look out for the above-mentioned symptoms and other general symptoms like excessive sleepiness during the day, excessive pain in the neck, shoulder, jaws, and head.
He/she may offer some dental treatment options.
Dental Treatment Options
Sleep Apnea can be treated through various ways like CPAP treatment, surgery and various non-surgical oral Your dentist may use various combinations of dental sedation and various equipment to alleviate your conditions if detected with the symptoms.
Some of them are:
- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure(CPAP) Treatment – It is kind of a ventilator worn in the form of masks which helps keep the airway continuously open, which may also include certain laboratory equipment. While this is largely helpful, many people find it utterly uncomfortable to use them.
- Oral Equipment – There are some which help keep the tongue in its place so that it does not obstruct the air pathway, some which help stabilize jaw, so on and so forth.
- To prevent damage to the teeth– Dentist may recommend a teeth guard, which sits on your teeth while you sleep, so that bruxism does not cause any serious damage to the teeth.
Effects of Sleep Apnea
Sleep Apnea, if left untreated, may lead to
- Excessive Decay of Teeth
- Various problems related to throat
- In the long term, may lead to problems like heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
Is Visiting a Dentist Sufficient?
While a dentist may help in the early detection of sleep apnea and offer treatment options, they may focus only on dental problems.
So, if your dentist detects you suffering from sleep apnea, he/she may recommend you to visit a physician.
A physician will be in a better position to treat the condition from the grass root level.
In some cases, the intervention of Psychological Health Practitioner may be required to help relieve stress.
While Sleep Apnea is common and chronic, it is definitely not untreatable.
With the combined efforts of you, your dentist, medical practitioner and psychologist/psychiatrist, sleep apnea can definitely be managed, ensuring a better life for you.
It also helps you to get a good night’s sleep, thus preventing further problems that arise from sleeplessness, also to prevent worn teeth.