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Dentistry and Sleep Apnea

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder where there are abnormal breaks in breathing or shallow breathing while sleeping.

Pauses can last for seconds to minutes and can happen several times within an hour.

There are three kinds of sleep apnea. The most common type is OSA, or obstructive sleep apnea. This is is caused by an over-relaxation of throat muscles that blocks proper airflow and causes brief moments where you stop breathing. There are several factors that make people prone to sleep apnea, but there are some people genetically pre-disposed for the condition, and it is more common in men over sixty. Weight and lifestyle also are a factor. If sleep apnea is left undiagnosed and untreated, the condition can shorten a person’s life span by as many as 18 years. It’s like depriving yourself from essential restorative sleep.

A CPAP machine is the name for the device that helps by opening the obstruction in the airway to get continuous breath through routine pressure delivery.

What does sleep apnea have to do with tdentistry?

Jaw pain is the primary dental sign of sleep apnea. Its caused by temporomandibular joint disorders, known as TMJ or TMD. Stress-related night-time teeth grinding are conventionally understood as the catalyst for jaw pain. However, recent studies show that TMJ is often caused by sleep apnea.

How so?

The throat begins to relax before an apnea episode.  The jaw’s natural response is to clamp down and prevent the tissue from blocking the airway, stressing the jaw, mouth, neck and shoulders. Hence, aching TMJ symptoms.

If you’re experiencing frustrating TMJ symptoms and you’re not sure what’s causing it, you might consider finding sleep disorder physician. They may suggest an at-home sleep study and or pulse oximeter reading to monitor oxygen levels and determine treatment.

Dentists can also help in sleep apnea treatments in the form of oral appliances. Oral devices can shift and support the jaw. These help in preventing the airway from collapsing.

According to research, these appliances successfully prevent sleep apnea in mild to moderate cases. However, surgery may be recommended for more severe cases. The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine says upper airway surgery may be necessary depending on the location and nature of the airway obstruction. Depending on the situation of the patient, the procedure may be minimally invasive or more complex. Some procedures involve removing the tonsils or sections of the soft palate.

Contact Dr. Mark Reichman today for more information on sleep and your oral health. Follow Dr. Mark Reichman on Twitter!


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