If you snore loudly and frequently, you may have a dangerous disorder known as sleep apnea. An apnea is a pause in breathing that can last as long as 90 seconds and occur as many as 100 times in one night. This deprives your brain of oxygen, which reacts by trying to wake you up to breathe deeply. However, you do not become fully conscious, so you remain unaware of the disruption of your sleep.
The most important consequence is that sleep apnea sufferers feel extremely tired when they fully wake up. They can barely keep from falling asleep while driving to work, which is very dangerous, of course. Sleep deprivation due to all causes results in about 100,000 vehicle accidents and over 1,500 deaths in the U.S. According to a study by the University of Minnesota, commercial truck drivers who have sleep apnea are five times more likely to be involved in a crash than those who don’t.
If someone does get to work safely, they tend to fall asleep in meetings, can’t focus or remember things, and are unusually irritable. The lack of restorative sleep has a big impact on many aspects of mental, emotional, and physical health, yet the largest consumer study of sleep, reported in 2017 by Sleep Score Labs, found that 79% of Americans do not get enough.
The inability to sleep for 6-8 hours (through all five cycles) for most people can result in many side effects, including anxiety, depression, a greater tendency to obesity, high blood pressure, lower sex drive, erectile dysfunction, heart failure, strokes, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. disease.
So if you snore (90 million do), especially if it has the telltale signs of being loud and frequent, the implications can be much more serious than simply disturbing your own sleep or that of your partner.
There are two major types of sleep apnea.
A small percentage of people have a brain disorder known as Central Sleep Apnea (CSA), which involves a failure of the brain to send a signal and requires a prescription medication.
By far the most common form is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), when the tongue or other tissue in the mouth fall back and covers the airway, especially when one is sleeping on the back. There are also some patients who have a mixture of CSA and OSA.
It should be no surprise that Wilshire Smile Studio can help those whose airway is blocked, since dentists are experts on the mouth and jaw, as well as the parts of the head and body that are effect each other.
For example, a dysfunction of the hinges that connect the lower jaw to the skull, known as the temporomandibular joints (TMJ), can cause sore shoulder and face muscles. And oral bacteria due to periodontal (gum) disease can spread throughout the body, significantly raising the risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.
So before we explain what we can do to prevent apneas from happening and why these techniques may be more effective than conventional approaches, let’s take a deeper look at sleep apnea, so you better understand the likelihood this is happening to you and the implications.
The Importance of Deep Breathing
Snoring is often due to being overweight, since this results in more fatty tissue in the mouth. Breathing in and out with this in the way causes the snoring sound. The chances of snoring also increase if you drink alcohol within an hour of going to sleep or take sedatives, both of which relax the muscles of the mouth. Smokers also have a higher rate of snoring because of its impact on breathing. And those who frequently breathe through their mouth, instead of nose, are also candidates for sleep apnea diagnosis.
“We breathe 12-16 times per minute and every cell in the body uses oxygen and without it, the body panics and goes on high alert,” explained orthodontist Dr. Kami Hoss in If Your Mouth Could Talk: An In-Depth Guide to Oral Health and Its Impact on Your Entire Life. “Breathing through the nose slows down airflow better than the mouth, allowing it to mix with nitric oxide released in the maxillary sinuses…which helps expand blood vessels and increase blood flow…The nose is extremely good at exchanging moisture and heat. You lungs need air coming in within a few degrees of your body temperature and nearly saturated with humidity.”
Hoss notes that those with even a moderate case of sleep apnea can have their blood oxygen levels drop from 100% to the 50-80% range.” If someone was in the hospital and blood oxygen dropped to 92%, they would immediately have an oxygen mask put on them.”
Mouth-breathing also leads to “dry mouth,” when the saliva is inadequate, causing cavities, bad breath, and gum disease.
Hoss cites other benefits to breathing mostly through the nose:
- It removes microbes, dust, and other unwanted particles.
- It actives the parasympathetic nerve receptors that help keep us calm and de-stressed.
- It can lower high blood pressure and heart rate.
- It helps the jaw grow correctly.
- It helps position the tongue against the palate to keep it from blocking the throat.
How We Prevent Sleep Apnea
Other common symptoms of OSA are the frequent need to urinate during the night (because of becoming partially awake), feeling chest pains at night, waking up in the morning with a mouth that feels “full of cotton” or a sore throat (both due to mouth-breathing), choking as you awaken, morning migraines, and gastroesophageal reflux (aka GERD).
Other well-known risk factors are being male with a neck size of 16-17, having sinus problems or a deviated septum, and a small jaw.
Yet an estimated 90% of the population with OSA has never had it diagnosed and those who do often find it hard to stick with the conventional treatment.
The standard approach for OSA is the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine, which requires the individual to lie on her or his back all night wearing an oxygen mask connection to a nearby machine. Many find this uncomfortable and there is a high rate of non-compliance.
At Wilshire Smile Studio we can offer a number of alternatives our patients find are effective and more comfortable:
- A custom-made, FDA approved oral appliance that is worn during sleep, similar to a sports mouthguard. This prevents the tongue from blocking the throat and can also be designed to move the jaw forward.
- If the TMJ hinges are dislocated and the position of the jaw leads to sleep apnea, we can design an orthotic splint to wear that gradually adjusts the bite. We can also teach you neuromuscular relaxation exercises to keep it functioning correctly. Sometimes the cause may be a bite misalignment, such as a overbite, underbite, crossbiate, or openbite that requires the need for appropriate dental work.
If you believe you may be suffering from sleep apnea or any other dental-related disorders, call Wilshire Smile Studio today to set an appointment for a full examination and discussion about your symptoms and sleep history. It may save your life.