Most people don’t realize that sleep apnea, which can cause significant problems in everyday functioning, also has a detrimental effect on dental health.
By far the most common and most serious type of sleep disorder is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), which occurs when your tongue relaxes against the surrounding soft tissues of your throat, causing your windpipe to be temporarily blocked while sleeping. Very short, interrupted blockages cause snoring. The greater the length of time the airway is blocked, the greater the risk.
Common symptoms of OSA include snoring, restless sleep, muscle aches, and fatigue during the day.
In the mildest cases, sleep apnea can disturb your ability to function optimally during waking hours. In the worst-case scenario, sleep apnea can lead to serious and life-threatening health problems including cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), adult onset diabetes, and memory disorders.
Warning signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring.
- Frequent silences during sleep due to breaks in breathing (apnea).
- Choking or gasping during sleep to get air into the lungs.
- Sudden awakenings to restart breathing or waking up in a sweat.
- Daytime sleepiness and feeling un-refreshed by a night’s sleep, including falling asleep at inappropriate times.
Diagnosis of sleep apnea is usually done in two phases:
- The first phase is an at-home sleep screening test with a Level 4 Sleep monitor, a simple but highly accurate device similar to a wristwatch, which can measure your sleep responses while at home in your own bed. It avoids the errors often introduced by requiring you to sleep in a strange setting, wired to many instruments.
- The second phase in diagnosing sleep apnea is a sleep study, done in a laboratory setting. These are still required by most medical insurance plans to qualify treatment for sleep apnea as a covered medical expense. Although sleep medicine is moving away from laboratory based sleep studies for obstructive sleep apnea, the insurance industry always seems to lag behind.
Stay tuned—I’ll be sharing more information on this blog about how sleep apnea is treated, including ways that state-of-the-art dentistry can help.