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Everything You Need to Know About Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition where a person’s breathing can repeatedly start and stop while they are sleeping. Sleep apnea can cause a number of potentially fatal medical issues. It can also cause teeth grinding, which can result in painful and sometimes permanent damage to the teeth and jaw.

There are two types of sleep apnea someone can be diagnosed with:
 
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common. It’s typically caused when the soft tissue in the throat collapses and blocks the airway during sleep. This means your lungs have to work harder to pull in air, resulting in labored or temporarily paused breathing.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is less common. CSA is caused when the brain forgets to fire the signal that triggers your lungs to draw a breath. It’s not caused by an inability to breathe, but by your body’s lack of effort to breathe.

Who is At Risk for Sleep Apnea?

A person can be born with sleep apnea, or they can develop it at any point in their life. A variety of physical conditions can cause sleep apnea. While some can be improved upon, others are hereditary and often not fixable. 

Sleep apnea is more common in those who:

 

  • Have neck circumference over 17 inches for men and 16 inches for women
  • Have small upper airway
  • Have large uvula, tongue, or tonsils
  • Are overweight or obese
  • Have a deviated septum
  • Have allergies or other sinus issues
  • Have a recessed chin or severe overbite
  • Smoke or drink alcohol
  • Have a family history of sleep apnea

Ethnicity and age also play a role in who is at risk for sleep apnea. Statistically speaking, you are more likely to experience the issue if you are over the age of 40. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, those of Hispanic, Native America, or African American descent are also more likely to experience sleep apnea. 

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

It’s not uncommon for someone with sleep apnea to mistake their symptoms for another medical condition, which is why it’s hard to know exactly how much of the population is affected. That said, if you notice any of the following symptoms, you should consult with your family doctor as soon as possible:

 

  • Loud snoring
  • Waking up choking or gasping for air
  • Sleepiness and fatigue during the day
  • Waking up with a dry mouth/sore throat
  • Restless sleep
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Mood changes or irritability
  • Decreases in memory or concentration

What Are the Effects of Sleep Apnea

Failure to diagnose or appropriately treat sleep apnea can result in some serious medical conditions, including, but not limited to:

 

  • Asthma
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Strokes
  • Arrhythmia, heart attacks, and heart failure
  • Depression
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Diabetes
  • Eye issues, such as glaucoma or keratoconus

In addition to the above complications, sleep apnea can also have a negative affect on your oral health. Many people who have sleep apnea also experience bruxism, a condition that causes them to clench or grind their teeth at night. People with bruxism often experience an increase in jaw pain and tooth sensitivity. Cracked, worn teeth are a common side effect of bruxism, as are cavities and enamel wear.

Sleep Apnea Treatment

If you’ve experienced symptoms of sleep apnea, or your partner has noticed that you snore loudly, gasp, or stop breathing during sleep, you need to see a doctor. A specialist can perform a sleep test that will determine whether you have sleep apnea and how to best treat it.

In addition to medical treatment, your doctor may also recommend you make certain lifestyle changes to help your sleep apnea, such as:

 

  • Losing weight
  • Stopping smoking
  • Cutting down on, or avoiding, alcohol
  • Transitioning to sleeping on your side, rather than your back

If you experience teeth grinding as a side effect of sleep apnea, you should visit the Wilmington, NC dentists at Salling & Tate. We can treat damage from teeth grinding with a variety of dental procedures. We can also assess whether an occlusal night guard would be right for you. Give us a call at 910-256-9040 to schedule your appointment.
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