May is a month of many health awareness events, including sleep. Created by the Better Sleep Council (BSC), Better Sleep Month seeks to raise awareness about the benefits associated with a good night’s rest – and the risks that come with disrupted or inadequate sleep. A refreshing respite is critical to optimizing your physical, emotional, and mental health. However, poor sleep cycles can lead to increases in stress hormone production, mood swings, substandard concentration, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, and weight gain. Sleep apnea represents one of the most potentially serious sleep disorders, and its effects can prove detrimental to your oral health. Your dentist can help mitigate those risks and even offer solutions less cumbersome than continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines.
The Risks of Losing Sleep
According to the American Medical Association (AMA), about 30 million U.S. adults suffer from sleep apnea, yet only 6 million are diagnosed. Sleep deficits pave the way for far-reaching health consequences. “Because of how it affects oxygen balance in the body,” the Sleep Foundation noted, “untreated sleep apnea raises dangers for various types of cardiovascular issues including high blood pressure, heart attack, heart disease, and stroke.”
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are three main types of sleep apnea, defined by the Mayo Clinic as:
- Obstructive sleep apnea, the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax
- Central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, which occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea
“The signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas overlap, sometimes making it difficult to determine which type you have,” the Mayo Clinic explained. The most common indicators of obstructive and central sleep apneas are:
- Loud snoring
- Episodes in which you stop breathing during sleep — which would be reported by another person
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Awakening with a dry mouth
- Morning headache
- Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
- Difficulty paying attention while awake
The Effects of Sleep Apnea on Oral Health
Sleep apnea also presents problems for maintaining oral health. The condition often forces people to breathe through the mouth, which leads to dry mouth – a major cause of tooth decay. The ill effects of dry mouth also encompass plaque, mouth sores, gingivitis (gum inflammation), and periodontal disease.
For those who suffer from some form of sleep apnea, several options exist. In extreme cases, a doctor may recommend surgery, but most patients receive treatment through the use of breathing machines.
- A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is the most common and reliable method for treating people with obstructive sleep apnea.
- A bi-level positive airway pressure machine (BiPAP), while similar to a CPAP in functionality, does not issue constant pressure all the time. Some people on CPAP experience difficulty with exhaling under the steady pressure.
- Adapto servo ventilation machines (ASV) adapt and adjust airflow based on the patient’s breathing, providing different amounts of air during the breathing process.
Your Dentist May Have a Better Alternative
Although the various PAP machines have a demonstrated track record of results, people still encounter challenges with using them. Common complaints involve limitations in sleeping positions, bulky or restrictive masks, discomfort with the level of air pressure, and others. Fortunately, there are non-mechanical options that your dentist can assist with.
For less severe forms of sleep apnea, patients may benefit from oral appliances called mandibular advancement devices (MAD). The most common mouthpieces bring your jaw forward to open your airway. Other appliances are designed to hold your tongue in place. While over-the-counter devices exist, the most effective mouthpieces are fashioned by a dentist who customizes the fit to your mouth. If your medical doctor has determined that an oral appliance could work for your condition, consult a dentist today to see if you’re a candidate.