At Quince Orchard Dental Specialist, our practice is a complete health practice, which means that while our specialty is oral health, we consider your overall health in everything we do. The mouth is the gateway to the body, and oral health problems are usually indicators that your overall health may be in jeopardy. If you are not getting a good night’s sleep, meaning night after night you toss and turn and you wake up feeling exhausted, you may have sleep apnea, which affects over 25 million adults in the U.S. Loss of sleep impacts your health and your daily routine more than many people realize and can lead to serious conditions that, left unchecked, can become chronic. At Quince Orchard Dental Specialist, we screen all our patients for potential signs of sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea means you actually stop breathing for a few seconds for up to a minute, several times a night. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when your muscles relax and the soft tissue in your airway collapses and interferes with your breathing. These pauses in breathing reduce your intake of oxygen; your breathing becomes irregular and disturbs your sleep. Anyone who sleeps with a sleep apnea patient knows those all too familiar sounds of snoring, possible gasping for breath, or even choking sounds. Men are more apt to suffer from sleep apnea, but women entering or in the throes of menopause can also have it. Sleep apnea is also common in extremely overweight individuals, or persons with a jaw that is misaligned or an airway that is unusually narrow. The two main forms of sleep apnea are:
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when there is blocked airflow during sleep, usually when the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapses while you sleep. Health factors, such as obesity may explain this disorder.
Central sleep apnea results from a problem with how the brain signals the breathing muscles. The airway is not blocked, instead the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe. This type of sleep apnea can occur with conditions such as heart failure, brain tumors, brain infections, and stroke and predisposes the patient to developing risks of these disorders over the long term.
Between mild and severe sleep apnea, falls moderate sleep apnea, which is a mixture of symptoms of both, and is only differentiated by the symptoms’ intensity. At least 15-30 episodes of interruptions in breathing in an hour are experienced by a patient suffering from moderate sleep apnea. A case of moderate sleep apnea that is left untreated or ignored can cause severe damage to your health and overall quality of life. No one likes to feel tired all the time, as fatigue affects your ability to work, drive, think and just function normally! Left untreated, you are putting yourself at risk for accidents that can have a lifelong negative impact, such as falling asleep driving. Moderate sleep apnea should be taken seriously and not thought of as just a nuisance. Healthwise, moderate sleep apnea can lead to these other serious and in some cases life-threatening issues.
- Chronic acid reflux
- Erectile dysfunction
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
If a patient has any indicators of sleep apnea, we partner with an agency called Sleeptest.com to send a screening package to the patient’s home. This is an easier and more cost effective alternative to getting a sleep test done than at a sleep center. The patient will sleep with the device for two nights and then send it back to Sleeptest.com, where their board certified sleep expert will perform rigorous tests. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, don’t worry, our dentists will work together with your physician to ensure you get the necessary treatment.
There are several ways to treat moderate sleep apnea, from wearing an appliance to having surgery. The most common ones are listed here:
- Continuous positive air pressure (CPAP). This is a device which improves breathing while you sleep. The device supplies air through the nasal passages and the air pressure keeps the airway open while sleeping. Considered to be the gold standard in treating sleep apnea, but, unfortunately most patients are not compliant or just can’t put up with the device.
- Oral appliances. Certain oral devices can shift and support the jaw to prevent the airway from collapsing. Research shows that oral appliances can successfully prevent sleep apnea in mild to moderate cases, as they can reduce or eliminate snoring. The appliance is worn in the mouth only while you sleep and fits like a sports mouth guard or an orthodontic retainer. Oral appliances support your jaw in a forward position to help maintain an open upper airway. The tongue re-training device can also be recommended to correct sleep apnea. The splint holds the tongue in the right position which helps to keep the airway open. This device does require periodic adjustments or replacements. Many patients consider a sleep apnea appliance to be more comfortable to wear than a CPAP mask. Oral appliances also are quiet, portable and easy to care for. More than 100 oral appliances have received FDA clearance. Our dentists will recommend the device that is best for you. Oral appliance therapy is covered by many medical insurance plans. This is where talking to your dentist and working with them on the right oral appliance for you can help tremendously with reducing or totally eliminating your sleep apnea.
- Surgery. According to the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, upper airway surgery may be recommended when other treatment options are unsuccessful in eliminating the symptoms of sleep apnea. Depending on the location and nature of the airway obstruction, the procedure may be minimally invasive or more complex. It may be necessary to remove the tonsils or other parts of the soft palate or throat.
Great news...many medical insurance policies will at the very least partially cover the cost of oral appliance therapy! Dr. Rouhanian is a participating provider for PPO insurances, such as BlueCross BlueShield, and our practice also accepts Medicare and Tricare. Our team members have a lot of experience with insurance companies, and one of our goals is to help you maximize your available benefits. Beating sleep apnea should be an amazing experience, not a headache-inducing one when it’s time to pay. We invite you to come in today and get a sleep apnea screening for a better night’s sleep tomorrow.