When you think of a trip to the dentist, you may envision a teeth cleaning or cavity filling. However, dentists can do so much more than that! If your dentist is certified for dental sleep medicine, they can even put your snoring and sleep apnea to bed.
The Difference Between Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Snoring occurs when the muscles of the tongue and throat relax at night, causing the air in your throat to vibrate as you inhale, and occasionally when you exhale. Overall, 40 percent of men and 24 percent of women snore on a regular basis. Snoring tends to be more common for men, older adults, people who are overweight or obese, those with a genetic predisposition to snoring, smokers and those who drink alcohol or take sedatives or tranquilizers close to bedtime.
While snoring can irritate your bed partner, it isn’t a diagnosable medical condition in and of itself. However, it may be a symptom of a condition called sleep apnea, which is harmful to the sleeper.
Sleep apnea is different from snoring because the airway goes through phases of being nearly or completely obstructed all throughout the night, sometimes between five and 30 times each hour, rather than just relaxing slightly and causing the air to vibrate. A person with sleep apnea can stop breathing for a full minute before their body awakens them to breathe again. This reduces quality of sleep and heightens the sleeper’s risk for other medical problems, such as chronic fatigue, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and depression, among others.
Many of the risk factors for sleep apnea are the same as those for snoring, so you will need the help of a medical professional to determine whether you are dealing with snoring or something more serious.
How to Know If You Have Sleep Apnea
There are a few common symptoms among sleep apnea sufferers that can alert you to a potential problem:
- A dry mouth or sore throat upon waking in the morning
- Headaches early in the day
- Excessive fatigue, which may interfere with work or driving
- Inability to feel well-rested
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering
- Unusual moodiness
- Unexplainable weight gain
- Trouble falling asleep at night (insomnia)
- Loud snoring
- Cessation of breathing during the night, usually noticed by your bed partner
- Waking up in the middle of the night
While these symptoms don’t necessarily guarantee a sleep apnea diagnosis, a combination of them may warrant a trip to a sleep specialist.
In order to be diagnosed, you will need to undergo a sleep test either in a sleep lab or at home. During the test, the patient wears monitors that track breathing, heartbeat, level of oxygen in the blood and other vitals so the specialist can check for abnormalities. In general, the in-person test is more accurate, but many patients prefer the comfort of the at-home portable test.
After your test, you may be diagnosed with any one of three types of sleep apnea. The first and most common is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which means that your difficulty breathing at night can be attributed to the physical obstruction of your airway by the tissues in the back of your throat. The second is central sleep apnea, which is a malfunction of the nervous system where your brain isn’t properly signaling your body to breathe. Complex sleep apnea syndrome is a combination of both.
Solutions for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
The most common and effective treatment for OSA is a breathing apparatus called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. At night, the patient with sleep apnea wears a mask that delivers air at a slightly higher pressure than normal to keep the airway open. CPAP machines can even be programmed to change air pressure as you sink deeper and deeper into sleep, making it easier to fall asleep.
Some people find the CPAP machine too uncomfortable, noisy or claustrophobic, especially since the straps must stay tight around the face to hold the mask in place. However, there are options besides the full-face mask, including nose pillows and nose masks. There are also other breathing machines available, like the BiPAP, which has bilevel positive pressure for both inhalation and exhalation, and the EPAP, which is a disposable device that adheres to the area around the nostrils and limits one’s ability to exhale, creating positive pressure.
Oral appliance therapy is an alternative that many people find more practical and comfortable than CPAP machines, especially if they have experience wearing a mouth guard or retainer. Depending on the design, they either reposition the jaw forward or hold the tongue in place, opening the back of your throat for ease of breathing during the night. They are so gentle they can even be used to quiet snoring.
In cases where OSA is minor, lifestyle changes may be enough to solve the problem. These include losing weight through diet and exercise, avoiding drinking or taking certain medications in the hours before bed and learning how to better position yourself during sleep. By contrast, severe cases that do not respond to breathing apparatuses, oral appliance therapy or lifestyle changes may require surgery to remove excess tissue or change bone structure, although this is usually a less effective option.
Get Fitted for an Oral Appliance at Providence Dental in Macon, GA
If you have been diagnosed with OSA or struggle with snoring, Dr. Jason Mann at Providence Dental can help fit you for an oral appliance. These appliances eliminate much of the discomfort of CPAP machines and are much more discreet and portable, making them a favorite among many patients. By finding a unique fit to match your mouth and jaw structure, you can see results right away with minimal discomfort.
At Providence Dental, we strive to cultivate a friendly and relaxing atmosphere where you can feel free to ask questions and get the clarification you need each visit. Call (478) 733-0857 today to schedule your appointment.