Getting to Know Sleep Apnea and Its Treatments

Do you snore? Do you wake up with a dry throat or feel tired even though you’ve had a full night’s sleep? If you do, you may have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). 

Obstructive sleep apnea is a fairly common sleep disorder that, for different reasons, causes your breathing to stop and start during sleep. However, this sleep disorder can also be deadly since your breathing may just stop and forget that significant “start” part for a while. 

So, what is obstructive sleep apnea? Is there sleep apnea treatment and is it easy to treat? The answers are below. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

This is the most common sleep apnea disorder, mainly because it is caused by the most common cause of sleep apnea: obesity. This form of sleep apnea happens when your throat muscles that support your soft palate, tonsils, and tongue relax, blocking your airway. Obese patients tend to have more tissue and fat deposits, which make it is easier for excess tissue mass to block their airways when the throat muscles relax. Sleep apnea usually happens in older males; however, even if you are not male or obese, you may have it. It can occur in people who happen to have smaller airways or enlarged tonsils. This means that neither age nor gender is a consistent factor in patients with obstructive sleep apnea. Even toddlers have been diagnosed with sleep apnea. 

But why should you treat this sleep apnea disorder? After all, your brain eventually senses the lack of oxygen and the “I’m not breathing” sirens go off, waking you. Won’t you just wake up when your airways are blocked for too long? Yes, but your body is not meant to be oxygen-deprived. Sleep apnea reduces essential oxygen flow to vital organs. Since your heart runs on oxygenated blood, sleep apnea can cause heart problems. In certain cases, such as with Star Wars star Carrie Fisher, sleep apnea patients have been rudely awakened by an OSA-induced heart attack. In Fisher’s case, treatment was not received soon enough, and her incident was fatal. 

Besides the medical problems, sleep apnea can also keep you wide awake at night. Since it makes you wake up because of airway obstruction, your sleep is interrupted. The more severe your sleep apnea is, the more interrupted your sleep is and the more tired you will be the next day. Between the health problems and sleep loss, sleep apnea isn’t something you should force yourself to put up with. 

Sleep Apnea Treatments

Fortunately, you have options for sleep apnea treatment, and many of those treatments aren’t as bad as you might think. Treatment can be as simple as a trip to the dentist. It is now common for dentists to be trained in treating sleep apnea problems through dental sleep medicine. 

Dental sleep medicine is a branch of dentistry where dentists and physicians come together to treat your sleep apnea through oral appliance therapy, a treatment that involves oral devices. The device we prefer and recommend is the mandibular repositioning device. 

The mandibular repositioning device is similar to a mouth guard in that it is tailored to fit your mouth, although it is only worn at night. The device supports your upper and lower dental arches and pushes your lower jaw and tongue into a slightly forward position. This position keeps your throat muscles from collapsing, which, in turn, keeps your airway open during sleep. Though a mandibular repositioning device does sometimes need a chin strap, it is still less bulky and inconvenient than a CPAP machine. 

Unlike a CPAP machine, a mandibular repositioning device does not treat your sleep apnea by uncomfortably forcing air into your airway throughout the night. It’s easy to transport and does not leave you with the side effects that a CPAP machine causes, such as dry throat, claustrophobia, nosebleeds, and stomach bloating. On top of that, this device is easier to wear and care for than a CPAP machine. Overall, oral appliance therapy devices are more comfortable and will not cramp your lifestyle as much as a CPAP machine will. 

Getting Your Dental Devices

If you search online, you’ll see many options for ordering a sleep apnea treatment dental appliance. While it’s always great when we can save ourselves time, over-the-counter dental devices can actually cause more problems with your sleep apnea. Also, an over-the-counter dental device may not help with your particular sleep apnea problems, or it may not fit your mouth correctly, which can lead to other problems that go beyond sleep apnea. To be safe and get the best treatment for your obstructive sleep apnea, talk to your dentist to see if you’re a candidate for dental appliance sleep apnea therapy.