Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Dental Sleep and Health

We are all aware of how important getting the proper amount of sleep is. Oftentimes we wake up in the morning, still feeling exhausted or we hit the afternoon slump and head for a cup of Joe. We often blame ourselves: “Should have went to bed earlier and gotten more sleep.” The question we should be really asking ourselves is, “How well did I sleep? We tolerate feeling exhausted during the day, but it’s actually not normal to feel tired or sleepy when you are just waking up.

If you are waking up to find yourself still tired, you have to ask yourself are you suffering from Sleep Apnea. Sleep Apnea is a medical condition that affects nearly 18 million Americans and often goes undetected. Most people who are suffering from it do not even know it- they often seek out help only when their partner can’t sleep due to the snoring.

Medical doctors do usually not detect sleep apnea during routine office visits, but an oral examination by your dentist may help. Current research has shown that teeth grinding, also called bruxism, is a major indicator for obstructive sleep apnea. A simple dental health screening that can improve the quality of your sleep and potentially even save your life begins by asking your dentist, “Do I grind my teeth?”

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

The most common type of sleep apnea is Obstructive Sleep apnea. The key words are “obstructive” — the thing “obstructing” the airway being the jaw, and the apnea—a term for suspension of external breathing. As the brain approaches the deepest stags of sleep and the muscles of the airway are fully relaxed, our breathing can become compromised. As a result, snoring can occur, which is just the sound that’s made when air is forced through a partial obstructed airway.

Once the brain senses that breathing is dangerously compromised, it gets out of the deepest stage of sleep to regain control of the jaw muscles and reopen the airway, and keep you alive and breathing. These sleep apnea cycles can occur from five to up to 70 times per hour while you sleep — preventing you from entering the deepest stages of sleep where the brain and body tissues can repair themselves from the wear and tear of the day.

In addition to snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep apnea can cause memory loss, morning headaches, irritability, depression, decreased sex drive and impaired concentration. Sleep apnea patients have a much higher risk of stroke and heart problems, such as heart attack, congestive heart failure and hypertension. Sleep apnea patients are also more likely to be involved in an accident at the workplace or while driving.

CNN VIDEO/Dental screening that could save your life

What are the symptoms of untreated sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea patients are often older, obese and have thick necks, but men and women of any age or body type can have sleep apnea. The sleep disorder progressively worsens with age and weight gain. Some common symptoms of sleep apnea are: unintentionally falling asleep during the day, general daytime sleepiness, unrefreshed sleep, fatigue, insomnia and waking from sleep with a choking sound or gasping for breath.

Another key indicator is grinding your teeth. One of the ways the brain tries to reopen the airway in an unconscious state is by grinding and clenching the teeth. People who grind their teeth at night often have sore or clicking jaws or flat, worn-down teeth. Many times, symptoms of teeth grinding can be far less obvious — such as earaches or sensitive teeth.

Snoring. The key here is that not everyone who has sleep apnea snores and not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Snoring can go undetected if you don’t have a bed partner or if you have a bed partner who is a heavy sleeper. Everyone, however, can ask their dentist if they grind their teeth at their next checkup.

How to Diagnose Sleep Apnea

See your dentist. Your dentist can tell you definitively if you grind your teeth at night or not. Teeth grinding is a major indicator that you are struggling to keep your airway open at night and might suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. Also, a medical sleep specialist is the only one who can officially diagnose sleep apnea.  A physician will order an overnight sleep study to properly diagnose obstructive sleep apnea. The test, also known as a Polysomnogram, will chart your brain waves, heart beat and breathing during sleep. It also records arm and leg movement.

Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea can lead to many other secondary health conditions. The doctors at Prestipino Dental Group are key members of your medical health team and understand that your dental health is often a mirror to your overall health. By taking a proactive approach and screening for sleep apnea, the doctors at Prestipino Dental Group will hopefully make the sleep apnea diagnosis a little less daunting for patients who suffer from it.