If you had a condition that increased your risk of heart attacks, strokes, and car accidents, would you want to know?
When left untreated, sleep apnea does all of those things. In spite of this, the American Sleep Apnea Association has reported that only about half of the estimated 20 million Americans with this condition are aware that they have it.
If you do think you may have sleep apnea, then we encourage you to get tested and get treated. Our team at Biggers Family Dentistry may be able to help you — and the people you love — sleep easier.
Understanding Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which someone stops breathing when he or she falls asleep. These stoppages can last from 10 seconds to more than a minute, and they can occur from 5 to more than 30 times every hour.
Your body responds to these stoppages by waking you up just long enough to take a few breaths. You may not have any memory of this, but these stoppages are preventing you from getting deep, healthy sleep. This can lead to sleep deprivation, which can affect you all day.
Perhaps the most common symptom of sleep apnea is loud and persistently snoring. Most people snore from time to time, but people with obstructive sleep apnea seem to snore constantly. That’s a problem for people trying to sleep in the same hallway, the same room, or the same bed.
Sleep Apnea Risk Factors
It’s important to point out that anyone can have sleep apnea. The factors we will discuss below don’t necessarily mean you will have sleep apnea, but they do increase the odds that you could.
➤ Being male
Fair or not, men are twice as likely as women to develop obstructive sleep apnea. This risk increases (for everyone) as we get older.
➤ Being a smoker
We could spend a month writing about the many reasons you should not use tobacco, but this is a pretty good reason to quit. Smoking increases inflammation of the tissues in your upper airway, which can interfere with your breathing. This could explain why smokers are three times more likely to have sleep apnea than nonsmokers.
➤ Having a narrow airway
This can happen for a variety of reasons. Some people’s throats are naturally narrower than average. Some people’s airways become restricted by enlarged adenoids or tonsils.
➤ Being overweight or having a large neck
People who are considered obese in the medical sense are four times more likely to have sleep apnea than people of average weight. This can be a factor in neck size as well.
Men whose necks are 17 inches or more around and women whose necks are 15 inches or larger have a greater risk of obstructive sleep apnea. The additional tissue around someone’s neck can collapse onto his or her airways while they sleep.
➤ Having a family history of sleep apnea
Some of the factors mentioned above such as having a narrow airway or a larger neck can be inherited traits. Again, it may not be fair, but your genes may increase your odds of having this sleep disorder.
How Our Dentist Can Help
The purpose of sleep apnea treatment is to find a way to keep you breathing when you fall asleep. This will allow you to sleep longer. That means you can get healthy sleep that leaves you feeling rested and rejuvenated when you wake up.
One option for doing this is a continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP machine. To use this machine, you wear a mask over your mouth and/or nose while you sleep. This machine pushes air into your airway. This forces the airway to stay open so you can breathe.
For a variety of reasons, many people have difficulty using a CPAP machine. This is where our dentist, Dr. Hood Biggers, can help.
We can make a custom-designed oral appliance for you instead. This changes the position of your jaw in a way that helps your airways remain open. You may need a little time to adjust to sleeping with this in your mouth, but many patients have learned that it makes a big difference in how well they and their spouses sleep.