Sleep Apnea and Dentistry

Senior woman using cpap machine to stop choking and snoring from obstructive sleep apnea with bokeh and morning light background.

There are numerous sleep disorders, and one of the lesser-known is sleep apnea; breathing stops during sleep. If untreated, this condition may lead to other complications such as high blood pressure and heart trouble.

Snoring and daytime fatigue are also associated with the disorder. Though it can affect anyone, some conditions increase the risk and aggravate sleep apnea, including obesity and diabetes.

Categories of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea manifests in obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central apnea. There are repeated episodes of partial or complete blockages of the airways in the former. During an attack, the diaphragm and thoracic muscles work overtime to compensate as pressure increases trying to open the airways.

The episodes differ in intensity in different people, and resumption of breathing occurs either with a gasp or violent body jerk. On the other hand, central sleep apnea is related to the working of the central nervous system: the airway is not blocked, but instead, brain signals to muscles fail to register due to failure of the respiratory control center.

Overweight people are at the highest risk of being affected, but it is not the only catalyst; physical and clinical features include; the soft palate hanging low, an increase in the size of tonsils, or petite jaws coupled with an overbite. These features affect those with obstructive sleep apnea by reducing the diameter of the airway.

The interruption of breathing means vital organs are deprived of oxygen, and this in itself is the cause of other conditions: the first effect is a drop in heart rate, and when you jerk awake, the heart rate rises, increasing blood pressure. In addition, it results in hypertension, cardiomyopathy, heart failure, stroke, or cardiac arrest.

Causes and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The most significant cause of obstructive sleep apnea is blockage of the upper airway due to the collapse of the soft tissue in the back of the throat during sleep. Neuromuscular conditions such as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) are significant contributors to central sleep apnea.

If you suffer from nervous system dysfunction (such as what happens after a stroke) also increases the risk of suffering from central sleep apnea. Lung disease and kidney conditions are also linked to sleep apnea and patients with heart failure and other heart conditions.

The earliest symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea are usually noticed by bed partners, not the patient, and most of the affected do not even have any sleep complaints. The first sign of OSA is snoring, but you should not be hasty in diagnosing yourself.

Migraines, daytime fatigue, restlessness caused by frequent awakenings, choking sensations are also linked. Other symptoms such as night sweats, frequent urination that interrupt sleep, and even sexual dysfunction are associated with OSA. These lead to moodiness (anxiety and depression) as the brain does not get the rest it requires.

Your Dentist and Sleep Apnea

During dental examinations, dentists recognize anatomic risk factors of OSA and identify potential patients. Tooth grinding (bruxism) is the first sign of sleep apnea, and dentists are at the frontline to detect this.

Grinding causes tooth wear and breakages of teeth and inflamed and receding gums; dentists use these symptoms to check further and diagnose sleep apnea. Sleep apnea dentist often recommends a sleep study, and with this, they can recommend a doctor to take care of your sleep issues.

The inclusion of dentists in the collaborative evaluation of OSA patients began in the 1980s, and practice parameters were published in 1995. The inclusion of dentists was driven by the positive results of Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT) to patients with OSA. Specialized skills are needed for the fabrication and implementation of these devices, and dental sleep practitioners got the go-ahead to deal with mild cases of OSA. With proper management and treatment, it is possible to reduce Sleep Apnea, and the after-effects are eliminated. As you sleep better, your health improves physically and mentally. Simple lifestyle changes such as; exercise, healthy eating, and proper oral hygiene go a long way in reducing the risk of sleep apnea. In some cases, eliminate it were the cause(s) is being overweight or habits such as smoking and too much caffeine before bed.

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