Sleep Apnea: The Misunderstood, Potentially Deadly Problem
In my Gillette dental office, I see a number of patients who have chronic sleep issues. They toss and turn at night. They wake up feeling tired or with terrible headaches. Or they snore or gasp for air throughout the night. All of these problems can symptoms of a serious problem called sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is one of the most misunderstood problems in dentistry. In fact, many people do not know that a dentist can resolve dental problems. Sleep apnea is a problem that affects about 18 million Americans. There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea and occurs when soft tissue (often the tongue) obstructs the airway. Today I want to give you a few facts about sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea can be deadly if left untreated
Sleep apnea occurs when someone experiences pauses in breathing. When someone experiences a sleep apnea attack, they often wake up gasping for air. A patient with severe sleep apnea can wake up more than 30 times a night. As you might imagine, this is dangerous and can be disruptive to a bed partner. It’s also extremely harmful to your body. If you’re a football fan older than 25, you probably remember Reggie White. Unfortunately, White died at 43 because of complications from obstructive sleep apnea.
Beyond immediate problems — sleep apnea can reduce the oxygen levels in your blood, increasing your risk of serious problems like heart disease, diabetes, and even stroke.
Who is at risk of sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea can affect anyone at any age, but there some of us who are at a higher risk than others. Men older than 40 years old face the highest risk of sleep apnea. Here are a few risk factors of sleep apnea:
- Being male older than 40
- Being overweight
- Having a family history of sleep apnea
- Large neck size (size 17 inches or more in men and 16 inches or more in women)
- Having high blood pressure
If you have any of these issues, you might be at a higher risk of sleep apnea.
More sleep apnea symptoms
I said at the beginning of this post that sleep apnea was about more than snoring. People with sleep apnea often wake up gasping for air and experience morning headaches. People with sleep apnea often experience daytime fatigue, mood swings, and signs of depression. Think of it like this: how we sleep affects the rest of our body. If you are not sleeping enough or the quality of our sleep isn’t good enough, we can experience physical and emotional issues.
Alternative to traditional sleep apnea treatment
Most people with sleep apnea or sleep problems have heard of the CPAP machine. If you aren’t aware, a CPAP machine is used to constantly push air into the airway. The CPAP machine is the gold standard for treating sleep apnea, but it involves a machine, hose, and mask. Wearing a mask while you sleep can be awkward and downright uncomfortable. Studies have found that the CPAP machine has only a 50 percent compliance rate. A 50 percent compliance rate isn’t music to a dentist’s ears. We would like to see a much higher compliance rate than that.
As an alternative to the CPAP, we have introduced an oral appliance. The oral appliance can be used for those with mild obstructive sleep apnea or simple snoring problems. The oral appliance fit perfectly over your bottom teeth and moves the lower jaw forward. With the lower jaw forward, the airway remains open during sleep.
My practice is devoted to resolving dental problems big and small. Sleep apnea is a serious issues, but I hope this blog post has help you understood this problem a little better. If you are experiencing problems with sleep apnea or have some of the symptoms listed above, call our office immediately at 307-622-1311.