Common medical questions and answers through blogs and articles

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Millions of Americans suffer with sleep apnea, and many more are diagnosed with this condition every day. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute reports that more than 10 million people in our nation have been diagnosed with the disease, and many more don’t even know they have it. Sleep apnea is on the rise in the U.S., for reasons still largely unknown to the medical community. Many people know that sleep apnea complications can be serious, but did you know that your sleep apnea is likely affecting the health of your teeth? So, what exactly is sleep apnea? Is it really that serious? And just how does sleep apnea affect teeth? Dental offices and throughout the country recommend that all Americans educate themselves on this medical condition in order to contain its complications.

The Greek word ‘apnea’ means ‘without breath.’ The term is appropriately used because sleep apnea is a medical condition that causes breathing cessation during sleep. It’s estimated that a sleep apnea sufferer can stop breathing up to 100 times per night. Sleep apnea has three major forms, the most common of which is obstructive sleep apnea. In this form, the muscles of the throat relax. The second of these forms of sleep apnea is known as central sleep apnea. With this form, the brain doesn’t send proper signals to muscles that control breathing. The third form is complex sleep apnea. This is a combination of obstructive and complex sleep apnea. The most common warning signs of sleep apnea are awakening overly tired or lethargic the next day and snoring loudly. More than half of sleep apnea sufferers are obese and/or over the age of 40.

One of the least known effects of this condition is its negative impact on teeth. Sleep apnea does not only can have devastating effects on health. It can also negatively affect your teeth and overall oral health. Sleep apnea patients need to inform their dentists of their medical condition as well as all of their symptoms in order for dental consequences of the disease to be minimized.

The reason that sleep apnea often leads to negative consequences to dental health is because it can lead to bruxism, a condition that causes grinding of the teeth, typically occurring during sleep. The effects of teeth grinding, especially when it occurs during sleep without a patient’s knowledge, can be significant to teeth. Bruxism can lead to missing teeth, cracked teeth, crooked teeth, misaligned, and even misaligned bite. Sleep apnea that goes undiagnosed will also go untreated, and that can lead to negative effects not only on teeth, but on other organs of the body, including blood, heart, and lungs.

The good news is that there are both medical and dental treatment options available for those who suffer from sleep apnea. These options include CPAP, or ‘continuous positive airway pressure.’ CPAP is a machine worn during sleep that delivers air pressure through a mask that sleep apnea sufferers place over the nose and mouth during sleep. CPAP machines are effective at opening the airways, which prevents apnea as well as snoring. However, many patients complain about their CPAP machines due to discomfort, which can lead to their cessation of its use. In this case, it’s important that sufferers talk with their family dentists in order to learn other effective treatment options in order to customize any oral appliances being used. This way, machines can be conformed to each sleep apnea patient’s mouth in order to ease the jaw forward and advance the tongue, thus opening up the airway. Dentists also may be able to recommend cosmetic dental procedures that will aid in opening the airways.

Anyone who is exhibiting the symptoms of sleep apnea needs to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Without a proper diagnosis, your sleep apnea cannot be properly treated, and that means your symptoms are only going to get worse. Worsening sleep apnea symptoms can lead to serious complications and even death, if you’re not addressing your sleep apnea properly. If you’re someone who is experiencing any of the symptoms of this disease, see your doctor immediately. Additionally, contact a dental office in your area to schedule a consultation about the treatment options available to you in order to contain your sleep apnea symptoms.

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