Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that can be potentially serious and because it makes getting a good night’s rest virtually impossible, it can have a significant negative impact on your quality of life. Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly more common and as many 80% of people with the disorder are never diagnosed. When untreated, sleep apnea has been tied to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, depression, cardiovascular issues, including heart failure, and traffic accidents. That’s why if you suspect you have sleep apnea, it’s important to seek help. An orthodontist is actually a great person to turn to and we offer several sleep apnea treatment options at Sturgill & Storie Orthodontics.
What is Sleep Apnea?
When someone has sleep apnea, they stop breathing repeatedly while asleep. The cessation in breathing usually lasts about 10 seconds, though sometimes longer, and causes the person to briefly wake up, opening the airway. This cycle of stopping and starting breathing can happen hundreds of times during the night. The most common form of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, which is what we’ll be discussing today. With obstructive sleep apnea, the upper airway becomes blocked, typically because of the soft tissues in the back of the throat collapsing against it. Though sufferers will often think they slept through the night, the frequent awakenings greatly reduce their quality of sleep.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
As for what causes sleep apnea, issues with the positioning of the tongue or jaw, craniofacial abnormalities and certain disorders can be at the root of it. Sleep apnea in children is most commonly caused by enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Though not necessarily sleep apnea causes, there are other risk factors that can increase the chances of developing the condition too, including:
- Extra Weight – Obesity significantly increases the risk of sleep apnea since deposits of fat around the upper airway can create a blockage when you’re sleeping and your muscles are relaxed.
- Narrow Airway – A narrowed airway, which is often inherited, can lead to sleep apnea. People with thick necks often surprisingly have narrow airways.
- Age – Sleep apnea strikes older adults most frequently, however, it can affect infants and children too.
- Being Male – Sleep apnea is two to three times more common in men, though a woman’s risk increases after menopause and if they’re overweight.
- Smoking – Since smoking can cause inflammation in the airway, it can really increase the likelihood of developing sleep apnea. In fact, it’s three times more common in smokers than it is in people who have never smoked.
- Family History – We’re often asked is sleep apnea hereditary? There does appear to be a genetic component because people with obstructive sleep apnea often have family members who have it as well.
- Alcohol, Tranquilizers and Sedatives – Alcohol, tranquilizers and sedatives may not actually cause sleep apnea but they can exacerbate it and make it worse since the substances relax the muscles in the throat.
- Nasal Congestion – Anything that makes it hard to breathe through the nose, including allergies or anatomical issues like a deviated septum, can make you more prone to sleep apnea.
What are the Sleep Apnea Symptoms?
The most common obstructive sleep apnea symptoms are:
- Loud snoring
- Choking or gasping for air while sleeping
- Pauses in breathing during sleep (usually reported by a significant other)
- Having a hard time staying asleep
- Waking up with a sore or dry throat
- Morning headaches
- Excessive sleepiness during the day
- Irritability and changes in mood
- Difficulty concentrating (in children, it can be mistaken for ADHD)
- Lack of energy
While loud snoring is often thought to be a hallmark of obstructive sleep apnea, not everyone who has it snores. That can make getting a diagnosis difficult, particularly for people who don’t remember waking up during the night. If you feel extremely tired every day and as if you’re not getting the quality of sleep you need or experience any of the other symptoms, it is a good idea to get evaluated.
What are My Sleep Apnea Treatment Options?
When it comes to how to treat sleep apnea, it will depend on the underlying cause. For example, if enlarged tonsils are the culprit in a child, removing the tonsils is the standard course of treatment. However, it’s not always that straightforward and, in most cases, trying a non-surgical approach to treat sleep apnea first before attempting anything invasive is preferable. Here are some of the sleep apnea treatment options:
- Oral Appliances – At Sturgill & Stories Orthodontics, we use SomnoDent as the first line of defense against mild to moderate sleep apnea. You wear the custom appliance at night and it shifts the lower jaw into its correct position, keeps the tongue from collapsing and blocking your airway and relaxes the back of the throat. You’re able to breathe freely. It’s comfortable, durable and can dramatically improve your sleep quality. Research has shown that an oral appliance, sometimes referred to as a sleep apnea mouthguard, can be just as effective as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea. However, oral appliances tend to have better patient compliance since they’re not burdensome like a sleep apnea machine and mask.
- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) – CPAP involves wearing a sleep apnea mask that covers your nose while an attached machine blows air into your nasal passage and airway to keep it open and help you breathe normally. A sleep apnea machine can be effective, however, you have to bring it with you wherever you go, some of them are loud and wearing a mask isn’t that comfortable. People often wake up with the mask off. Kids and teens are especially reluctant to embrace CPAP, which is why we recommend trying an oral appliance first.
- Orthodontic Treatment – In some cases, the position of the jaw interferes with a person’s ability to breathe normally. If jaw alignment can be fixed with orthodontic treatment alone, like braces or Invisalign, we often go that route before resorting to surgery. This does take time, however, and sleep apnea will improve once the jaw shifts into place. For sleep apnea in kids who are still growing and developing, an appliance such as a palatal expander is also one of the sleep apnea treatment options. It expands the airway as it widens the roof of the mouth.
- Jaw Surgery – If you suffer from severe sleep apnea and don’t respond to less invasive treatments, surgical orthodontics can bring about permanent relief. Dr. Sturgill has the expertise to offer patients a type of jaw surgery called bimaxillary advancement combined with braces or Invisalign. During the surgery, the jaw is moved forward. Since the teeth will move when the jaw is moved, orthodontic treatment is necessary too to make sure everything is aligned. The process will create more space in your dental arch, enlarging the airway and helping you breathe.
- Other Surgical Sleep Apnea Treatment Options – As we noted, sometimes, removing the tonsils or adenoids if they’re causing the sleep apnea, is the preferred course of action. In other cases, if a patient’s obstructive sleep apnea is life threatening and all else fails, other surgical alternatives may need to be considered.
If you’re ready to breathe easier and sleep more soundly with Johnson City sleep apnea treatment, book a free consultation at Sturgill & Storie Orthodontics today. We always take a conservative approach and we’ll go over the pros and cons of your sleep apnea treatment options with you to help you make an informed decision. Schedule your appointment with Dr. Sturgill today online or by calling or texting us at (423) 282-2333.