Do you get enough sleep at night? If not, it could eventually lead to more than a grumpy next day. That’s why the National Sleep Foundation is sponsoring National Sleep Awareness Week, March 8-14, to highlight the consequences of poor sleep and what can be done about it. And, by the way, your dentist might be just the person to help you get a better night’s sleep.
How could that be, you ask? Because dental professionals can provide a useful solution to one of the more common reasons for sleep loss: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
OSA occurs when the airway becomes obstructed during sleep, the primary culprit usually being the tongue relaxing against the back of the throat. As the brain registers a lack of oxygen, it rouses the body to readjust and open the airway. It only lasts a few seconds, so you usually don’t fully awaken before the body settles back to sleep.
The problem, though, is that this can occur many times a night (upwards of 30 times an hour for those with sever sleep apnea), which can deprive the body of the deep sleep it needs. Not only does this lead to fatigue, irritability or mind fog (and a heightened risk for work or driving accidents), but it may over time contribute to conditions like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or stroke.
Besides lifestyle changes like diet, exercise and smoking cessation, the most common therapy for OSA is continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. An air pump creates a high-pressure air flow delivered through a face mask the patient wears while sleeping. This increases the air pressure around the airway to keep it open.
CPAP therapy is effective, but it has its drawbacks. The equipment can be cumbersome, and some patients find it uncomfortable to use. The pump sound can also be disturbing, and some patients with claustrophobia may find it impossible to adjust to the mask pressed against their face.
As an alternative to CPAP, dental professionals can provide a different kind of treatment option for some OSA patients. This option is an individualized mouth appliance, similar to a nightguard or retainer, which the patient wears while sleeping.
Depending on the type, these OSA appliances work by repositioning and stabilizing the tongue, lower jaw, soft palate or other anatomical structures that may be blocking the airway. They may not work as well with more complex cases of OSA, but for many people, especially those having trouble with CPAP therapy, it can be a workable solution.
So, if you’re suffering from OSA, don’t lose another night’s sleep over it. Make an appointment today to see if an OSA mouth appliance might be the right therapy choice for you.