When you awake in the morning do you still feel exhausted? Are you irritable during the day, unable to think or focus clearly? Is your loud snoring bothering your bed partner?
If you answered affirmatively to any of these questions, you may have sleep apnea. This happens when an obstruction (usually the tongue) blocks the airway during sleep, preventing you from breathing. Your brain notices the drop in oxygen and wakes you to re-open the airway. The arousal lasts only a few seconds, and you may not even notice. But because it can happen many times a night, these waking episodes can rob you of the deep sleep your body needs.
Sleep apnea is more serious than simply waking up grumpy. Over time, it could contribute to dangerous health conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease. If you’re noticing any of these signs, it’s important then that you undergo a complete examination by a physician or dentist trained in sleep-related issues.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce sleep apnea. One of the most common is continuous airway pressure (CPAP): This method uses a small pump that pushes pressurized air through a face mask worn while the patient sleeps. The forced air keeps the airway open and reduces apnea episodes.
While it’s an effective method, it can be uncomfortable and cumbersome to use—some people can’t tolerate wearing the mask while they sleep. But if your sleep apnea symptoms are mild to moderate, your dentist may be able to provide an alternative therapy with a specially designed oral appliance.
Similar to a mouthguard or retainer, a sleep apnea appliance worn during sleep holds the lower jaw forward, which helps move the tongue away from the airway. It’s much less cumbersome (and noisy) than a CPAP machine. And your dentist can custom design and fabricate your appliance for a comfortable fit.
Not all cases of sleep apnea can benefit from such an appliance, or even from CPAP therapy. Extreme cases could require surgery to remove tissues blocking the airway. But most sleep apnea patients don’t require this invasive intervention. Getting checked by a qualified medical professional could open the door to a more convenient and effective way to a better night’s sleep.