Sleep apnea is a complex sleep disorder characterised by pauses in breathing or instances of shallow or infrequent breathing during sleep. The most common type of sleep apnea is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). OSA is caused by an obstruction of the upper airway, which is usually caused as the tongue and throat muscles relax back into the airway space while you sleep.
The main symptoms of OSA are snoring, daytime sleepiness and fatigue, pauses in breathing while asleep and waking at night with shortness of breath. Most people will have no recollection of these “awakenings” despite maybe having tens or hundreds a night!
Although 70 per cent of people with OSA are overweight or obese, other things that can cause sleep apnea include:
- Snoring because the throat is already partially covered, hence the snoring, and can more easily cover fully to stop you breathing.
- A small lower jaw, that is your jaw is set back further than normal.
- Drinking alcohol before going to bed as it relaxes you even further and can promote snoring and apnea.
- Sleeping on your back. It is easier for the muscles to relax back into the throat when you are on your back as opposed to when you lie on your side.
The health effects and consequences of OSA are frightening and can have a significant effect on your health. OSA increases the risk of developing:
- High blood pressure
- Coronary heart disease, heart attacks and stroke
- Type 2 diabetes
Dentists play an important role in helping to diagnose or finding the symptoms of sleep apnea because in regards to your teeth, it is directly related to the oral cavities. However, sleep apnea is officially diagnosed with a sleep study and managed by your GP or a sleep physician. There are surgical and non-surgical treatment options.
The non-surgical options include weight loss and lifestyle changes, oral devices and the traditional treatment – Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). A CPAP helps maintain a mild air pressure to keep the airways open so you can breathe continuously throughout the night. It looks a like an oxygen mask.
The oral device is called a Mandibular Advancement Splint (MAS) and is an option for those who have mild to moderate OSA and those who can’t tolerate CPAP. A MAS is a custom-fitted and adjustable device that holds your lower jaw in a forward position to help prevent the collapse of tissues into the airway.
Children as young as 4 years old can suffer sleep apnea. This not normal and children should not snore. Studies show the children and teens who snore are in the bottom half of their classes.
Click here to complete a self assessment to see if you are at risk of suffering sleep apnea.
The dentists at GWH Dental can help with your sleep apnea by creating an MAS. If you believe you may be suffering from this condition, please make an appointment to see Dr Michael Harris.