There are different kinds of sleep apnea that are most commonly found among Americans today across all age ranges. It’s a severe and potentially fatal sleep disorder that causes a person’s breathing to stop and restart throughout the night. Most people who snore regularly suffer from some form of sleep apnea and rarely get a good night’s rest. The effects of sleep apnea are tremendous and can be the trigger cause for other chronic and debilitating health issues and diseases.
Luckily, dentists have teamed up with sleep experts to help identify sleep apnea in patients, potentially leading to a diagnosis. Oral healthcare professionals are also making it possible to alleviate sleep apnea symptoms and sometimes nearly eliminate it using various oral appliances custom-made for each patient.
Main Types of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea: most common sleeping disorder occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat relax, causing disrupted breathing, can wake someone up between 5-30 times an hour each night
Central sleep apnea: occurs due to brain signals failing to control the muscles that control breathing during sleep; less common sleep disorder, people will often feel short of breath or have difficulty falling or staying asleep
Complex sleep apnea syndrome: a combination of both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, causes symptoms of both other types
Minimizing Risk Factors
While oral appliances help reduce the effects of sleep apnea in patients, there are also other ways to lessen the chances of developing sleep apnea that include being preventative measures in regards to typical risk factors:
- Maintaining a healthy weight. Excess weight is a significant factor contributing to sleep apnea due to fat deposits that crowd the airways and obstruct breathing.
- Discontinuing use of alcohol or sedatives. Both substances cause the muscles in the back of the throat to relax, worsening sleep apnea by making it difficult to breathe.
- Quit smoking. Those who smoke are more likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea due to inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway.
- Solving nasal congestion. Sinus and allergy issues can often cause breathing problems that can lead to sleep apnea. Addressing any breathing issues early on could minimize inflammation of the airway.
- Tonsillectomy. Although not always recommended to do in adulthood, those with vary narrow breathing passages caused by tonsils or adenoids that are enlarged can potentially seek out surgery to alleviate the issue.
Health Complications caused the Sleep Apnea
Many issues can arise due to sleep apnea and its effects, and some of these conditions can worsen overall wellness, potentially leading to severe illnesses.
- Daytime fatigue: people with sleep apnea rarely, if ever, get a good night’s sleep causing them to experience significant daytime drowsiness that can inhibit their ability to concentrate or work. It also poses dangers to those who drive long commutes and habitually feel sleepy or fall asleep randomly throughout the day.
- Elevated blood pressure: drops in blood oxygen levels during sleep apnea episodes can increase blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system, potentially leading to hypertension.
- Changes in behavior: those who don’t sleep well are more prone to moodiness, depression, and have trouble performing at work or school, along with the development of more severe behavioral disorders.
- Type II diabetes: insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes can both be caused by untreated sleep apnea.
- Metabolic syndrome: a metabolic disorder that includes high blood pressure, irregular cholesterol levels, and increased waist circumference, all linked to heart disease.
- Medication and surgery complications: sleep apnea can cause issues for those who regularly take life-saving medications or expect to have medically necessary surgery.
- Liver problems: abnormal liver panels are typical among folks who have sleep apnea, most likely caused by nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
- Sleep-deprived loved ones: those with spouses who snore rarely get a good night’s rest and are secondary sufferers. Children and other people in the home are also affected by snoring and being disrupted throughout the night.
Oral Appliances that can Help Sleep Apnea
Mild to moderate sleep apnea can be helped with oral appliances, especially for patients who cannot tolerate the CPAP machine prescribed by sleep specialists. The three main types of oral appliances are:
Mandibular advancement device (MAD): The most commonly prescribed oral appliance for sleep apnea, MADs look very similar to mouth guards people wear for protection in sports. The device snaps over the upper and lower dental arches and has small metal hinges that help ease the lower jaw forward. The use of a TAP or Thornton Adjustable Positioner can allow for precision control of the device’s degree of advancement.
Tongue Training Device: This device is used less often when compared to the MAD but is still quite significant. It’s a splint that holds the tongue in place to keep the airway open. It helps people with mild to moderate sleep apnea, especially those who sleep on their backs or stomachs. A tongue training device can greatly improve sleep quality and reduce the occurrence of snoring.
Snoring chin straps: While these are popular products, their efficacy is not as strong as dental appliances. The chin strap attempts to hold the jaw in place to widen the airway in the back of the throat to regulate proper breathing.
There are several advantages of dental appliances for sleep apnea compared to CPAP machines, the biggest one being patient compliance. CPAP machines, while effective and be quite intrusive for the wearers and cause disruption during sleep due to the tubes and nature of the device itself. Dental appliances seem to bother patients less while also quite useful in stopping their snoring and opening their airways for better breathing, leading to better sleep.