Is Sleep Apnea Affecting Your Health?
Oct 31, 2019 10:00AM
Have you been told you snore? Do you have trouble sleeping or staying asleep? Do you wake up with headaches? Are you tired during the day? Do you sometimes wake up choking or gasping, or with a sore or dry throat?
If you suffer from any of these symptoms, you may have already been diagnosed with sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where people stop breathing repeatedly while sleeping—sometimes hundreds of times. Consequently, the brain, as well as the rest of the body, does not get enough oxygen. It has been estimated that millions of Americans have sleep apnea but have not yet been diagnosed.
There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, which is caused by a blockage of the airway—usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep—and central sleep apnea, where the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe. Complex sleep apnea syndrome occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause headaches, depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)-type symptoms, diabetes, liver problems, high blood pressure, or even stroke. Sleep apnea can cause complications with medications and surgery, and may also be responsible for poor performance at work or school. It can affect attention to the point of causing car crashes, children doing poorly in school, or adults not being as productive at work.
There are several factors that may contribute to sleep apnea, including: obesity, a narrow or obstructed airway, nasal obstruction or congestion, age, gender, family history, alcohol or drug abuse, smoking, and even sleep aids or sedatives. Anatomical factors may also contribute to the condition, including underdeveloped upper and/or lower jaws, enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids, or an enlargement or elongation of the soft palate.
Sleep apnea is usually diagnosed through a physical exam and a sleep study, but X-rays and additional tests will help your doctors and dentist determine the best treatment for you. Your doctor may suggest a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to help you breathe while you sleep. CPAP therapy requires a mask to be worn over the nose and/or mouth while you sleep. The mask is hooked up to a machine that delivers a continuous flow of air into the nose. CPAP is the most common treatment for sleep apnea, but it is not curative. Patients are usually required to use the CPAP machine the rest of their lives.
As an alternative or in addition to CPAP therapy, your dentist may suggest an oral appliance to help open up your airway to help you breathe. Dental devices can be made that help keep the airway open during sleep. There are also new dental appliances that help correct underdeveloped upper and lower jaws to eliminate or reduce an obstructed airway.
Simple changes at home may also help sleep apnea, including: losing weight, changing sleep positions and avoiding sleeping on your back, and stopping smoking. Someone with sleep apnea should also avoid alcohol and sleeping pills to help them sleep. Sleeping pills tend to relax airway tissue, so they are even more likely to block the airway while you sleep.
However, if you think you might have sleep apnea, don’t rely on home remedies alone—please consult both your physician and your dentist. Treatment can ease your symptoms, and it may help reduce and even prevent serious health problems. It may even save your life.
Dr. Michael Margolis graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio Dental School in 1983. He received a doctorate in integrative medicine from the Capital University of Integrative Medicine, in Washington, D.C., in 2002, where he also received the President’s Research Award for his research into the use of ultrasound technology to detect cavitational lesions within the jawbone. He has also served as past president of the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine and as assistant professor emeritus of Capital University. He is an accredited member of the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, a member of the Holistic Dental Association, a professional member of the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, a pioneer in the cause to ban mercury in dentistry with Consumers for Dental Choice, and a founding member of the Institute of Natural Dentistry. Margolis is the founder of My Dentist, a clinic that offers holistic and biological dentistry. For more information, visit MyDentistAZ.com.