What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a potentially serious condition where you stop breathing during sleep. There may be several factors for this, including orofacial problems which we at HomeTown Dental at Irving have extensive experience in treating.
The primary signs of sleep apnea are loud snoring and intermittent cessation of breathing, punctuated with choking, snorting, or gasping noises. If you have concerns that you could have sleep apnea, please contact us immediately.
What Are the Causes of Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is caused when the muscles in the back of the throat and the tongue relax too much, obstructing the airway. As the air moves over the soft tissues in your mouth into a constricted airway, it causes snoring sounds. As the muscles relax further, the airway becomes blocked completely, when breathing stops momentarily. It may be for seconds, but in some people, it is much longer. The lack of oxygen causes you to wake briefly and breathing starts again, but the cycle is repeated, sometimes hundreds of times a night, as you fall asleep and the muscles relax again.
What Are the Risk Factors?
While anyone may develop sleep apnea, some are more susceptible to it than others. Men are more likely to suffer from it than women, although it increases in women after menopause. The condition is more common in people with certain medical conditions, including diabetes and asthma. Being overweight may contribute to sleep apnea, and there is an increased risk if there is a family history of it. People who smoke are more likely to have sleep apnea than those who do not.
Sleep apnea may also be caused by malocclusion of the jaw when the position of the teeth gives you an underbite and the bottom jaw falls back to accommodate the front teeth in the upper jaw. More seriously are congenital defects in the jaw where surgery is required to realign the jaws.
How Dental Treatment Can Help Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is diagnosed by a specialist, but if your problem is caused by malocclusion then some treatments can be carried out by a dentist, orthodontist, or oral surgeon to help.
If your airway is obstructed because your lower jaw relaxes backward when you fall asleep, intra-oral appliances may be a solution. Custom-made, these appliances are special mouthguards known as mandibular repositioning devices (MRD). Worn over the teeth, they hold the jaw forward, preventing the soft tissues from collapsing into the airway. Because a lot of force is exerted on the teeth when wearing these devices, you must have strong healthy teeth - particularly the back ones - for this treatment to be considered.
Other treatments that may be effective include orthodontic treatment with braces to realign and straighten the teeth so that the jaw is positioned correctly. However, this is a long-term treatment and is not going to help in the short-term.
If the teeth and jaws are very badly aligned, orthognathic surgery to the jaws may be required to improve the position of the jaws and teeth. This involves extensive surgery to move the upper or lower jaws and may well require orthodontic treatment before or after surgery.
If you have any concerns about sleep apnea and how it is treated, get in touch with us at HomeTown Dental at Irving and schedule an appointment by calling (682) 204-5777.