While an annoying (and noisy) problem, snoring may be more than a harmless quirk. In some cases, it can be a telling symptom of a serious medical condition called sleep apnea. Millions of Americans suffer from this issue, with nearly 3 million each year diagnosed. Learn what causes sleep apnea, its symptoms, and – most importantly – how to minimize its effects on your life.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common disorder that occurs when a person’s airflow is interrupted during slumber. It involves the frequent collapsing of the back of the throat, causing snoring and inconsistent, disrupted breathing during the night. The disruption not only interferes with breathing and overall quality of sleep, but also leads to less oxygen being delivered to the brain and vital organs.
Even mild cases can have a number of negative health consequences. Since the brain is being deprived of oxygen, those affected often wake up during the night (even without realizing it), sometimes hundreds of times. These short interruptions in sleep might only last seconds, but they disrupt the sleep cycle, which causes fatigue, grogginess, and even depression.
Sleep apnea can also cause dry mouth, as snorers tend to sleep with their mouths open. When the mouth can’t maintain a healthy amount of saliva, it also can’t fight off dangerous bacteria, which might lead to infections of the teeth and gums.
In addition, blocked airways and poor breathing can cause nightly teeth grinding, as the body attempts to keep its airways open. People who grind their teeth at night often don’t know that they do it, only finding out when they see their dentist. Chipped, cracked, or eroded teeth can result from grinding, giving dangerous bacteria more places to grow.
What causes sleep apnea?
While there are many potential factors for what causes sleep apnea, or worsens it, these are considered the most common:
Obesity may cause some people to be four times as likely to suffer from sleep apnea as those within their medically ideal weight range. Fat deposits around the upper airway may obstruct breathing, causing collapses in the throat.
Men are twice as likely as women to have sleep apnea. Though the risk for women increase if they are overweight or have gone through menopause.
Sleep apnea occurs more often in older adults, though younger patients with several other indicators can also regularly suffer from this condition.
- Family History
Some patients have a history of sleep apnea in the family. If you have loved ones with sleep apnea, you could be at greater risk of developing it yourself.
- Neck and Airway Circumference
People with thicker necks may have narrower airways, which can contribute to sleep apnea. In addition, some people inherit naturally narrow airways. Whenever the airways are narrower than average, there’s a greater chance of collapse.
- Alcohol and Drug Use
Substances with a tranquilizing effect, like alcohol or drugs, can cause the muscles in your neck to relax too much. This can result in frequent airway collapses during sleep.
Smokers are three times more likely to have sleep apnea than are people who have never smoked, because smoking increases the amount of inflammation in your airways. If you quit smoking, the risk level drops.
- Nasal Congestion
If you have difficulty breathing through your nose—whether it’s because of permanent sinus issues or allergies, etc.—you’re could be more likely to develop sleep apnea.
How is sleep apnea treated?
Though there are several types of treatment options available, sleep apnea devices generally fall into two groups: those that hold the tongue forward, and those that change the position of the lower jaw. Many devices look like heavy snorkels, put constant pressure on your face, and prevent movement of the mouth and jaw.
However, comfort is essential to getting deep, quality sleep, which is why the Dental Crafters’ custom-fit Intraoral Snoring Therapy (IST) Appliance offered by My Family Dentistry is fully adjustable and custom-fitted. It’s gentle, non-obstructive, and doesn’t put any additional pressure on your face while you sleep. Besides improving the quality of your rest, treating sleep apnea can help alleviate other symptoms, like headaches, tooth grinding or soreness, depression, dry mouth, and loud snoring.
If you’d like to learn more about what causes sleep apnea and how we treat it, don’t hesitate to contact our office today. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can begin your path to once again feeling healthy, happy, and well rested.
Latest posts by Dr. Wesley Mullins (Knoxville Dentist)
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