Everyone, at one time or another, has experienced the effects of a sleepless night or two. Imagine how those effects worsen with a chronic condition where sleep deprivation is a regular occurrence. Sleep is an integral part of a person’s health and daily quality of life; it not only makes you feel better, but also look and perform better. Sleep problems are detrimental to a person’s physical and emotional well-being. One of the most common sleep disorders is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and one of the treatment options available could involve a referral to an experienced cosmetic dentist.
What is OSA?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder suffered by approximately 30 million people in the United States alone. The disorder causes individuals to suffer breathing disruptions during sleep. The breathing disruptions can occur up to hundreds of times a night and can last for as little as a few seconds up to a minute or more. This is attributed to the relaxation of muscles during sleep and causes soft tissue to collapse into the airway and cause a blockage. The most serious outcome of this involves the reduction of oxygen levels and the numerous effects of sleep deprivation.
Signs of OSA
Common signs of OSA include snoring, gasping, choking sounds during sleep, and of course, numerous sleep disturbances. Sleep apnea, like snoring, is more common in men but can also occur in women. Contributing factors to OSA include obesity, a narrow airway, and a misaligned jaw. If left untreated, those suffering from OSA can experience daytime sleepiness, drowsiness and chronic fatigue. Headaches, memory loss, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, chronic acid reflux, and erectile dysfunction are also possible outcomes of untreated OSA cases. If OSA is suspected, a doctor will likely screen for physical signs such as a narrow airway, recessed or small lower jaw, deep overbites, teeth worn from night grinding, obesity, and a large neck circumference. An official OSA diagnosis will likely be accompanied by a referral to a dentist experienced in treating OSAs.
OSA Treatment Options
There are three main treatment options available for those diagnosed with mild to obstructive sleep apnea: CPAP, jaw surgery, and oral appliances.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) involves the wearing of a facial mask during sleep that is connected to a constantly-running machine via a tube. Many people do, however, find this treatment too uncomfortable to wear during sleep and the machine’s noise to also be too disruptive.
Jaw surgery involves surgery on the lower and upper jaw to correct issues of misalignment. The surgical option is known to have very positive long-term results.
Oral Appliance Therapy
This treatment option will send you to a qualified dentist where an upper and lower appliance will be custom-fitted over the teeth. The device will function together to push the lower jaw forward. This shift results in opening the airway, enlarging the pharynx and maintaining that open airway. The oral appliance is worn in the mouth during sleep and fits similarly to an orthodontic retainer or mouth guard. As the appliance pushes the jaw forward, the position helps to keep the upper airway open. This option is often considered the most comfortable and least invasive of the treatment options available. The oral appliances do not involve the noise or bulkiness of the CPAP mask and do not carry the additional risks and concerns of undergoing surgery. For those fearful of dental visits, sleep dentistry is always a helpful option in lessening anxiety.
When it comes to obstructive sleep apnea, diagnosis and treatment is of extreme importance. Not only does sleep deprivation manifest itself as depression and anxiety, the many physical symptoms include high blood pressure, risk of stroke, lower oxygen levels during sleep, to name a few. All of these risks can be mitigated by a trip to a dentist experienced in treating OSA who will recommend which treatment option is best suited to that individual.