Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening chronic medical condition in which a person stops breathing repeatedly as he or she sleeps. Dentists like Dr. Chris McDonald are often the first to identify patients with risk factors for sleep apnea or to notice symptoms of sleep apnea. Though sleep apnea is officially diagnosed by sleep specialists, Dr. McDonald plays an important role in helping patients overcome sleep apnea with the help of a slim, lightweight dental appliance.
Understanding Obstructive Sleep Apnea
There are several types of sleep apnea, with obstructive sleep apnea being the most common. In obstructive sleep apnea, the soft tissues at the back of the throat collapse into the airway during sleep, causing repeated breathing pauses. A hundred or more breathing pauses can occur in any given night in the most severe cases. After a breathing pause, the body awakens slightly to restart breathing.
Obstructive sleep apnea is commonly accompanied by snoring (although not everyone who snores has sleep apnea). As air pushes through a partially blocked airway, it causes vibrations in the soft palate and other tissues of the upper airway. These vibrations are what make snoring noises. Choking or gasping can occur as breathing restarts.
Physical and Mental Health
If you have obstructive sleep apnea, it can affect numerous aspects of your physical and mental health. Not getting the adequate, restful sleep you need can cause daytime exhaustion, mental fatigue and mood swings. Headaches, sinus problems, dry mouth and weight gain are other common side effects.
Furthermore, sleep apnea puts you at risk of potentially life-threatening conditions. The repeated cessations in breath put a tremendous strain on your body’s systems, increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, blood pressure problems, obesity and other diseases. Also, the exhaustion common with sleep apnea puts you at risk of a potentially life-threatening accident on the road or at work. Simply put, you cannot afford to overlook the problem of sleep apnea.
Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea
The most commonly prescribed treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) therapy, which uses mild air pressure to keep airways open. CPAP machines are comprised of a mask worn over the nose and mouth during sleep, a tube that connects the mask to the CPAP machine’s motor and a motor that blows air into the tube.
Although CPAP machines are effective, they are bulky, difficult to pack for travel and often uncomfortable. If you have previously tried a CPAP machine, you may have experienced claustrophobia from wearing the mask, or you may have developed nasal congestion, dry mouth, skin irritation or pressure sores.
Because of these drawbacks, many patients like you are unable to tolerate CPAP machines and therefore are not actively treating sleep apnea.
Mouth Guards and Retainers
A much more tolerable treatment option for obstructive sleep apnea is the use of an oral appliance worn during sleep. Oral appliances fit like a mouth guard or an orthodontic retainer, and work by supporting your jaw in a forward position to maintain an open airway during sleep. They are quiet, lightweight, easily portable and comfortable.
If you have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea and are interested in oral appliance therapy, Dr. McDonald can help. With his technical skill and knowledge, he can fit you for a custom appliance by taking impressions and sending them to a laboratory where your appliance is made. Once your appliance is ready, Dr. McDonald will have you try it on in your mouth and make any adjustments that are necessary for an optimal fit. He will show you how to clean and maintain your appliance. Dr. McDonald will also follow up with you to confirm the appliance is comfortable and easy to wear.
If you stay committed to wearing your oral appliance nightly, you should notice your symptoms of sleep apnea diminish and feel more rested and energetic throughout the day.
For more information about oral appliances for obstructive sleep apnea, please request an appointment at McDonald Family Dentistry today. You can call or send us an email.