Let’s talk about sleep apnea, a good night’s sleep is incredibly important for your overall health. It allows the mind and body to recharge, and sleeping well means you wake up feeling alert and refreshed. Moreover, getting enough quality shut eye helps your body fight off disease and stay healthy. In addition to impacting your health, sleep also affects your oral health. Unfortunately, there are many factors that can disrupt your natural sleep patterns. A common sleep disorder is sleep apnea. According to Health Canada, an estimated 900,000 Canadians suffer from sleep apnea. Read on to discover the symptoms of sleep apnea, how it affects your health and oral health, and possible treatments.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep-related breathing disorder. To date, this disease is impossible to cure, but it can be treated effectively with mechanical interventions. It is characterized by repeated pauses in breathing (apneas) during the sleep cycle. These pauses typically last between 10 and 30 seconds until the brain reacts. During each apnea, blood oxygen is reduced forcing the sleeper to wake up briefly to resume breathing. This cycle is repeated throughout the night, resulting in extremely poor sleep quality and daytime sleepiness.
There are three main types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea: this occurs when throat muscle relax, and is the most common.
- Central sleep apnea: here, the brain doesn’t send the proper signals to the muscles that control your breathing.
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome: this type occurs when someone suffers from both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
So how do you know if you have sleep apnea and how does it affect your health?
Symptoms of sleep apnea
The symptoms of both obstructive and central sleep apnea are similar, making it difficult to diagnose which type you have. The most common symptoms include:
- Loud snoring
- Reduced or absent breathing
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Feeling fatigued and sleeping during the day
- Problems concentrating
- Dry mouth and morning headaches
Your dentist is often the first specialist to identify a problem related to sleep apnea. A doctor who specializes in sleep apnea will be able to confirm the final diagnosis and present the various treatment options available to you.
Health impacts of sleep apnea
Sleep apnea can have serious effects on your health. Complications may include:
- Daytime fatigue and related problems: difficulty concentrating, irritability, depression, drowsiness, moodiness, and others. Moreover, people with sleep apnea have an increased risk of car accidents and work-related accidents.
- High blood pressure and heart problems: The drops in blood oxygen levels while you sleep can cause high blood pressure (hypertension) and strain your cardiovascular system. Obstructive sleep apnea also increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, and irregular heartbeats.
- Type 2 diabetes: sleep apnea increases your risk of getting type 2 diabetes.
The connection between sleep apnea and oral health
Surprisingly, your dentist may be the first one to suspect you suffer from sleep apnea. This is because several dental problems are associated with this common sleep disorder.
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder is commonly associated with sleep apnea. The TMJ is located on each side of your face, near your ears. It connects the lower jaw to the upper jaw. Symptoms of TMJ disorder include jaw pain, ear pain, pain through the neck, head, and shoulders, problems chewing, clicking or grinding sounds in the jaw, and locked jaw.
- Uncontrolled and involuntary grinding of the teeth or clenching of the jaw (also known as bruxism) is considered a sleep-related disorder and commonly associated with sleep apnea. Your dentist may notice signs of bruxism, such as loose teeth, eroded teeth surfaces, and cracked, chipped or broken teeth.
- Dry mouth and tooth decay is another common side effect of sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea often sleep with their mouths open, which leads to dry mouth. Additionally, breathing through the mouth can cause gingivitis, tooth decay, plaque, sores, and periodontal disease.
You should talk to your dentist about any of these symptoms.
Sleep apnea treatments
If your dentist or doctor suspects you have sleep apnea, they will recommend consulting a sleep specialist or sleep clinic. Usually, a sleep specialist will suggest overnight monitoring, which can often be done from home. Remember that sleep apnea can be treated, but cannot be cured.
Once you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, different treatment options are available. For example, for milder cases, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes such as losing weight, quitting smoking, or treatments for allergies. A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is commonly used for treating more moderate to severe sleep apnea. This machine delivers air pressure through a mask while you sleep. These devices retail between $1,500 and $2,200 and unfortunately the costs are not covered by the RAMQ. However, some expenses may be eligible for tax credits for medical expenses. In addition, for the past few years, some private insurance companies have offered coverage for medical expenses related to sleep apnea.
Another option : the oral appliance (mandibular advancement orthosis)
This custom-made appliance allows your lower jaw and tongue to move forward in order to open the airways and can be used in mild to moderate apnea. Your dentist is the right professional to help you with this method and will be able to refer you to the right place depending on your situation. These oral appliances are easier to use but only a professional can see if it is the right treatment for your type of apnea.
It goes without saying that you should beware of devices sold on the internet. These devices may not provide the necessary treatment for your problem or worse, aggravate your condition.
Sleep apnea is a rather common sleep disorder that affects close to 90 million people in North America. As it disrupts your natural sleep patterns, it can have serious consequences on your everyday life. In addition to feeling fatigued and tired, it can also impact your health and oral health. If you think you may have dental problems associated with sleep apnea, consult your dentist who will be able to recommend different treatment options to relieve pain and symptoms. Make an appointment today.