It’s important not to overlook the negative impact sleep apnea can have on your overall health. Your body uses sleep to rebuild and repair tissue. You also require consistent levels of blood oxygenation to remain healthy. Sleep apnea interferes with both.
Along with a long list of other problems, sleep apnea can elevate your blood pressure, increase your risk of developing diabetes, and cause irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia).
Surprisingly, your dentist is often the first health care professional to suspect a problem with sleep apnea due to changes noted in your teeth or jaw alignment on a routine exam.
Only a medical doctor can formally diagnose sleep apnea, but your dentist can partner with your physician to provide effective treatment with a custom-fit oral appliance that may help you sleep easier.
At Metairie Village Dentistry, we’ve got years of experience in spotting the signs of sleep apnea. Lisa Wyatt, DDS, has worked with many of our patients and their physicians to develop a successful treatment strategy that is often more effective than therapies tried in the past.
We’re happy to provide more info about sleep apnea and how we can help.
There’s more than one type of sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is one of many sleep disorder problems that can keep you from experiencing quality sleep. The three main types of sleep apnea are:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), most common type and often due to over-relaxation of your throat muscles during sleep and certain structural abnormalities of your jaw
- Central sleep apnea, occurring when your brain doesn't send the right signals to muscles that control breathing, often linked to underlying health issues such as heart failure or stroke
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome, a combination of both OSA and central sleep apnea
Treatments available through your dentist focus on the obstructive type.
Sleep apnea is about more than loud snoring
Loud and frequent snoring is a common symptom of OSA, but other signs may include:
- Episodes in which you stop breathing or gasp for air during sleep
- Morning headache or excessively dry mouth
- Problems staying asleep and severe daytime drowsiness
- Loss of focus, increased irritability, and lack of motivation
- Decreased sex drive
What a dentist sees when you have sleep apnea
We often ask about your sleeping patterns if we notice you have a small jaw that may not provide the structural support necessary for keeping your airways open as your throat relaxes during sleep.
A scalloped tongue, red and irritated throat due to snoring, or evidence of teeth grinding (bruxism) or abnormal wear on certain teeth may also suggest you’re having problems with obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea and health risks
Untreated sleep apnea can impact your health in many ways, including increasing your risk of developing:
- Hypertension and heart problems due to sudden drops in blood oxygen levels
- Type 2 diabetes
- Elevated cholesterol levels
- Liver function abnormalities or nonalcoholic cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
- Problems with certain medications, such as benzodiazepines for anxiety and opioids for pain relief
- Breathing complications following surgery
Interestingly, obesity is often listed as a potential cause of sleep apnea, but OSA may also decrease your ability to lose weight.
Sleep apnea treatment with an oral appliance
The most common treatment for sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which keeps your airway open by providing forced air through flexible tubing. CPAP therapy is often effective, but many people find it very uncomfortable and struggle to use it every night.
We offer a custom-fit oral appliance that is designed to shift your jaw slightly and provide the support that keeps your airway from collapsing. It can be very effective for mild to moderate cases of OSA. Because the appliance is tailored to fit your mouth shape and size, most of our patients find it much more comfortable to use than a CPAP machine.
If your doctor has diagnosed with OSA and you would like to discuss treatment with an oral appliance, schedule a consultation online, or call Metairie Village Dentistry today at 504-827-1910.