Sleep Apnea

What is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that occurs when the muscles in the throat are more lax than they should be, preventing air from flowing properly into the air passage and causing disruptions to normal breathing. The problem is characterized by pauses in regular breathing, as well as shallow breathing during sleep. These pauses may last anywhere from a few seconds to over a minute. Once the person begins to breathe normally again, they may snore loudly or make snorting or choking sounds.

Sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea represent a significant health concern in the United States, where an estimated 22 million people have the condition, with about 80% of cases going undiagnosed.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a dangerous condition that puts the body under extreme stress, releasing excessive amounts of stress hormones that are detrimental to overall health. Obstructive sleep apnea is linked to various diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, obesity, stroke, depression, diabetes, and glaucoma. In about 25% of cases, obstructive sleep apnea may also produce bruxism, or grinding of the teeth, as the body responds by clenching the jaw in an attempt to keep the air passage open.

How is sleep apnea treated?

Patients diagnosed with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea may benefit from using an oral appliance as approved by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). An oral appliance such as a mouth guard is fitted to be worn over the teeth while you sleep. It works by supporting the lower jaw in a position that keeps the breathing airway open, while also preventing the tongue and throat muscles from blocking the upper airway.

The AASM recommends oral appliance therapy as the first line of treatment for patients with obstructive sleep apnea. An oral appliance such as a nightguard may help those patients with severe obstructive sleep apnea who are unable to tolerate CPAP devices. Many patients prefer the use of a mouth guard over bulky and noisy CPAP devices, since the mouth guard does not make the noise that CPAP devices make. They are also comfortable and portable, while being inexpensive and easy to care for and maintain.

What does sleep apnea have to do with dentistry?

In about one out of every four patients with obstructive sleep apnea, the patient also has bruxism, or teeth grinding, which may result in damage to the teeth. Often a dentist is the first medical professional to spot the signs of obstructive sleep apnea in patients who grind their teeth while sleeping and are not aware of it.

At O’Connor Dental Care, our dentists are familiar with the signs and symptoms of bruxism and sleep apnea. Dr. Emily and Dr. Patrick can easily recognize and diagnose the problem, while also helping you overcome the severe damage that bruxism and sleep apnea may cause to your teeth and gums. In many cases, a simple oral appliance, like a mouth guard or nightguard, may save you from the ongoing stress of not sleeping properly every night.