Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sleep Apnea and Dental Snoring Appliances

Recently, my husband was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea that bordered on severe. The fact that he had sleep apnea was no surprise -- he'd suspected it for years. But severe? Now, that was shocking! He now uses a CPAP machine at night. He wishes he'd done his sleep study sooner, instead of continuing to put it off.

Why am I mentioning this in our dental blog? Many people go to their dentist to get an oral appliance fitted to help stop their snoring. Or they buy some sort of over-the-counter device at their drugstore. While this is generally a good thing, it's important to realize that a mere snoring problem may only be the tip of the iceberg.  If you have a problem with snoring, it is possible that you also have sleep apnea. While a dental device could help, it may not solve your entire problem. And it's really important to know whether you have a larger problem!

Think that snoring is no big deal? It turns out, it really IS a big deal. When your nighttime breathing is obstructed, even mildly, it affects your cellular metabolism and can lead to a huge host of problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, depression and anxiety, fatigue, thyroid dysfunction, body aches and pains, restless leg syndrome, frequent nighttime urination, and more. Believe it or not, sleep apnea could cause you to gain weight or not be able to lose weight. And if you have a severe problem, you could be setting yourself up for a heart attack or a stroke.

While most people associate sleep apnea with snoring, that it actually only one symptom. You can have sleep apnea and not snore at all. Snoring occurs when the soft palate and the uvula vibrate against the back of the throat or base of the tongue. Apnea, however, closes off the airway and creates “pauses” in breathing that can occur anywhere from five times to 100 times per hour, as if you're holding your breath many times per hour. Some people don't have a physical obstruction causing the apnea; sometimes, it's caused by the central nervous system.

So, before you head to your dentist to get an oral appliance to help stop your snoring, please consider doing a sleep study first. Usually, you need to get a doctor's referral to schedule a sleep study. Most sleep studies are done as outpatient procedures in hospitals, but some private companies that do it, as well. A few companies let you do the sleep study in your home; they give you a monitor to wear at night. Personally, knowing what I know today, I would advise anyone who suspects sleep apnea to get a sleep study done in a hospital, because they monitor just about every part of your body, your brain, and your breathing -- in other words, it's extremely thorough.

Many people don't want to get a sleep study because they are afraid it will mean needing to use a CPAP machine. However, there are many types of sleep apnea, and the type you have may be able to be treated with a simple dental device. You'll never know for sure until you get a sleep study! And if it turns out that you need a CPAP machine, it's not the end of the world. Think of it this way: would you rather use a CPAP machine at night, or be sicker than you should be, and possibly die younger than you should have?

If you would like to know more about sleep apnea, here are a few links to give you more information: