When Snoring Becomes Dangerous, Dentists Step In

 When it comes to the dangers of your snoring, more could be at risk than your partner’s restful night’s sleep. Your offensive sleeping sounds may be a sign that you are suffering from sleep apnea, a serious sleeping disorder. Approximately 50 percent of loud snorers suffer from some sort of sleep apnea, according to the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. Thankfully, we can help alleviate your symptoms and reduce your risk with oral appliance therapy if you have mild to moderate sleep apnea.

In part one of this two-part series on sleep apnea, we will discuss sleep apnea risk factors, signs and diagnosis.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Snoring is a sound that resonates from your upper airway as you breathe in. The sound is created by a partial blockage (usually soft tissue) in your throat. Snoring is extremely common, and often more annoying than it is harmful.

Sleep apnea occurs when a person’s sleep becomes interrupted by brief pauses in breathing. Apnea is defined as a cessation or near–cessation of breathing for 10 seconds or more that results in a reduction of airflow. There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when upper airway tissue completely blocks your airway, which causes a pause in breathing.

Central sleep apnea sufferers do not experience a physical blockage. Instead, central sleep apnea occurs because your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control your breathing and your breathing is disrupted.

The pause in breathing from sleep apnea reduces blood oxygen, which triggers the sufferer to awaken. This can happen repeatedly throughout the night, and so quickly that the sufferer is not aware that it is happening. On the other hand, they may wake in a fit of choking or coughing. Many sleep apnea sufferers exhibit loud snoring as well.

Sleep apnea puts you at risk for serious health conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, depression and worsening of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea

  • Being male
  • Enlarged tonsils
  • Large neck
  • Small jaw
  • Narrow upper palate
  • Crossbite
  • Underbite
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity

As you can see, many of the risk factors for sleep apnea manifest in oral conditions commonly corrected by dental professionals. There will be more on the pivotal role your dentist plays in your sleep apnea treatment in part two.

Signs You Suffer from Sleep Apnea

  • Acid reflux
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Loud snoring
  • Unintentionally falling asleep during the day
  • Waking from sleep with a choking sound or gasping for breath

Sleep apnea does not discriminate when it comes to age, and it can be present in children. Be sure to mention the signs your children display to your dentist ASAP. Sleep apnea can disrupt not only your child’s health, but quality of life. Approximately 50 percent of adolescents with sleeping disorders also suffer from ADHD, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is generally diagnosed through an overnight sleep study in a sleep lab using a polysomnogram. Polysomnograms chart brain waves, heart beat, and breathing during sleep.  A home sleep test is a less invasive way of testing for sleep apnea and can be done in the comfort of your own home.

Background information will also be used in the diagnosis. Your physician will want to know if your partner has noticed you choking, coughing or snoring loudly in the past. They will also inquire into your weight history to identify a possible correlation with your sleep apnea.

Treatment depends on the cause and severity of your condition. Stay tuned for the second installment of this two-part series where we will discuss treatment offered by Dr. Tartagni for mild to moderate sleep apnea sufferers using oral appliance therapy and comprehensive orthodontic treatment.

In the mean time, make sure you bring any symptoms you may have to your dentist’s attention.