What Is Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of the condition. It occurs when the muscles of the soft palate relax too much during sleep.
Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain struggles to communicate with the muscles that control breathing.
Complex sleep apnea syndrome occurs when someone suffers from both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
How Does Obstructive Sleep Apnea Work?
As the most common form of sleep apnea, it’s important to know how obstructive sleep apnea works.
When you sleep, the brain releases a series of complex chemicals (including Melatonin and GABA) that allow you to relax and remain (relatively) motionless. Unfortunately, the tissues surrounding the soft palate (the tonsils, the uvula, etc.) can relax too much, and when they do, your airway can become obstructed.
Obstruction of the airway means less air gets to your lungs, which means less oxygen gets into your bloodstream. As your oxygen levels drop, the brain performs what amounts to an “emergency wake up”, briefly rousing you from your sleep to reopen the airway and restore your natural breathing.
These “wake ups” are so brief that most people don’t remember them, even though there may be as many as 20 or 30 during the course of the night. If you share the bedroom with someone, however, they might notice your sleep apnea—ask them if they notice you snorting or gasping for air at any point during the night.
Why Do People Get Sleep Apnea Treatment ?
There are many reasons to get treatment for sleep apnea, but the most common reason is an improved quality of life.
People who suffer from sleep apnea struggle to get adequate rest, which can leave them feeling tired, moody, and unfocused during the daytime. Moreover, sleep apnea can contribute to cardiovascular disease, increasing your risk for heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and more.
Most concerning?—sleep apnea itself can be fatal if left untreated.
Who Is At Risk for Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea can impact anyone—it’s a condition that transcends race, gender, age, and body type.
Having said that, certain individuals are more at risk than others.
- Overweight individuals
- People who use depressants (alcohol, opioids, etc.)
- Nasal congestion
What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
There are many symptoms of sleep apnea, but some of the more common symptoms are:
- Loud, obstructive snoring
- Snorting, gasping for air during sleep
- Chronic dry mouth in the morning
- Excessive daytime fatigue
- Attention difficulties during the day
How Common Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is relatively common—roughly 20 million Americans suffer from chronic obstructive sleep apnea.
How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?
Screening for sleep apnea is a two-part process. Part one will consist of a meeting (or meetings) with your doctor. You will be asked a series of questions about your sleeping habits, as well as your fatigue levels. If you share a bedroom with another person, your doctor may also ask you to talk to that person about what they observe as it pertains to your sleeping habits.
The second part of the process will involve a consultation with a sleep specialist who will provide you with tools you can use to monitor your sleep at home over the course of a few nights. These tools will look for common sleep apnea indicators like elevated nighttime blood pressure, reduced oxygen levels, or a higher-than-normal heart rate.
The results of this two-part assessment will be used to determine whether or not you suffer from sleep apnea.
How Is Sleep Apnea Treated?
There are two common ways to treat sleep apnea—positive airway pressure devices (e.g. CPAP machines) and oral appliances (e.g. an FDA-approved mouthguard).
Positive airway pressure devices work by pumping pressurized air into your throat (via a tightly-worn mask) while you sleep, preventing the airway from becoming obstructed.
Oral appliances work by keeping the lower jaw in a forward position that helps to prevent the muscles of the soft palate from relaxing and obstructing the airway—they’re worn the same way an athletic mouthguard is worn. The use of an oral appliance is the preferred dental solution for sleep apnea.
Will an Oral Appliance Work for My Sleep Apnea?
Anyone who struggles with sleep apnea is a viable candidate for an oral device. This is especially true for individuals who sleep on their back, as oral appliances have been shown to be most effective for back sleepers.
While there is no guarantee an oral device will 100% of the time, worn properly, it should greatly reduce the occurrence of sleep apnea.
How Do I Get an Oral Appliance for My Sleep Apnea?
First of all, sleep apnea is a medical condition and we can use an oral appliance vs a sleep lab. The oral appliance is made from plastic or silicone. It is placed in the mouth while sleeping so that it can hold the mouth in a position that allows for improved breathing. There are several different types of oral appliances that can help, and the dentist can help each patient determine what will work best for them. This type of appliance is often highly successful in reducing or preventing sleep apnea.
Once we receive the appliance back, an actual medical doctor will complete an analysis and provide a recommendation.
How Is a Sleep Apnea Oral Appliance Fitted?
While there are over-the-counter oral appliances available that claim to help with sleep apnea, they are not endorsed by most dental professionals, especially if you’ve previously paid for any orthodontic care (braces, retainers, Invisalign, etc.). These one-size-fits-all, boil-and-bite oral appliances rarely fit properly which can cause your teeth to move, changing the structure of your bite and the shape of your smile while you sleep.
At Dean Dental Solutions, we recommend all sleep apnea patients invest in the creation of a custom-fitted oral appliance. Custom-fitted oral appliances are carefully built to perfectly match the natural shape of your jaw and the alignment of your teeth, greatly improving the effectiveness of the device at combating sleep apnea and reducing the risk of any unwanted side effects.
The process starts by taking impressions (digital or plaster) of your teeth. Using these impressions, a custom mold will be produced and used to create your oral appliance. Once the oral appliance has been created, it will be reassessed by your dentist to ensure it has the proper fit and will move your lower jaw enough to combat sleep apnea.
Which Oral Appliances Does Dean Dental Solutions Offer?
Although there are hundreds of oral appliances on the market, Dean Dental Solutions only endorses three:
The EMA works by pushing the lower jaw forward and opening the mouth for better airflow.
The TAP works by advancing and stabilizing the lower jaw so the soft palate does not collapse the airway.
The Herbst oral appliance works by correcting your bite and moving the lower jaw forward—it is most commonly used in younger patients and those who wear braces.