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According to the National Sleep Foundation, around 18 million Americans have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea typically occurs when the upper airway is blocked by the tongue or flaccid throat muscles and causes a person to stop breathing. Not only can this hinder someone’s well-being and sleep, but it can also cause serious health implications if left untreated. Dental care and sleep apnea go hand in hand, and patients may visit a dentist for sleep apnea treatment.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Patients typically suffer from one of the three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, or mixed. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea. Patients with OSA suffer from repeated breathing interruptions throughout the night, typically lasting a few seconds, but may last minutes. 

OSA occurs when the airways are obstructed. This may be caused by the size of the patient’s tongue, a small jaw, or flaccid throat muscles. These sleep interruptions may occur up to 30 times per hour. 

Some symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Snoring
  • Sleeplessness
  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Waking up with headaches, a sore throat, or intense dry mouth
  • Bruxism or teeth grinding
  • Forgetfulness or irritability
  • Redness in the throat
  • Trouble with concentration
  • Tongue with scalloped edges
  • Night sweats
  • Small jaw

Causes and Dangers of Sleep Apnea

Most patients who suffer from OSA also experience bruxism or excessive teeth grinding. Over time, the surfaces of the teeth become worn and damaged, leaving the teeth more susceptible to bacteria, breakage, and cavities. The patient’s gums may also recede and experience inflammation.

The cycle of waking up and gasping for air severely damages a person’s quality of sleep and may even reduce the body’s oxygen levels. Patients may become extremely fatigued throughout the day, and are at a higher risk of increased blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. When left untreated, OSA may cause additional health problems, such as congestive heart failure, heart attacks, hypertension, stroke, and cardiomyopathy. 

OSA may impair a person’s ability to drive and hinder work performance. 

Who is at risk for Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is more common in adults than children, but children may also suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, though it is harder to notice. Patients who smoke or use recreational or prescription drugs are at greater risk for OSA. Additionally, men and adults over 40 years old are more susceptible to OSA.

Dental Care and Sleep Apnea Treatments

While patients with severe sleep apnea may require a CPAP machine, dental devices are also an effective way to treat sleep apnea. A dental or oral appliance will keep your tongue from sliding back into the throat, and can also be adjusted to advance the lower jaw forward. These devices keep the airways open throughout the night so patients may return to their normal, peaceful sleep routine. 

Suffering from sleep apnea? Dr. Ema can prescribe an oral appliance or dental treatment to overcome obstructive sleep patterns. Call our office at (312) 435-0411.