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How Well Do You Sleep?

Sleep is essential to a healthy, happy life. By shutting down our minds and resting our bodies, we can re-allocate energy resources to healing and repair. Sleep also plays a critical role in hormonal balance, which can directly or indirectly affect just about every bodily function. Sleep deficiency can increase the risk for obesity, heart and kidney disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke. For children and teens, sleep is essential to proper growth and development. A good night’s sleep improves learning and cognitive ability. On the flip side, a lack of sleep can lead to anger, depression, stress and other negative side effects.

While there are several reasons we may not be getting adequate sleep, one is a commonly undiagnosed condition known as sleep apnea. There are two main types of sleep apnea: A central sleep apnea occurs when the brain doesn’t properly signal the body to breathe. The second and more common form occurs when the upper airway is blocked during sleep, reducing or even completely stopping airflow throughout the night. This is known as obstructive sleep apnea.

There are some known factors that can put you at an increased risk for sleep apnea: being male, over 40, overweight, having anatomical and structural issues with your nose, mouth, tongue and sinuses.

There are many signs of sleep apnea, including snoring, gasping for air and cessation of breathing that can be monitored during sleep. There are also many symptoms associated with apnea, including excessive daytime sleepiness, headaches, decreased libido, mood swings and many more.

There are also some signs that your dentist can look out for to help screen you for sleep apnea. Many apnea patients exhibit unique characteristics in the mouth, including linea alba (white line) along their cheeks, scalloping along the lateral borders of the tongue and bruxism (grinding). Teeth grinding can lead to a multitude of dental complications that can be difficult to treat without identifying and treating the cause of the grinding.

The first step towards improved sleep is a proper diagnosis. A sleep study can help measure how much and how well you sleep through the night. Many sleep studies can be completed at home. At our office, if you show signs and symptoms of sleep apnea, we can order an at home sleep study to help properly diagnose you. The results are sent to a Texas board certified sleep physician for review and diagnosis. Once properly diagnosed, the sleep physician can recommend treatment based on the degree and severity of your apnea.

For the mildest forms of apnea (or even milder, upper airway resistance syndrome), treatment may be as simple as adjusting sleeping positions. For severe cases of apnea, patients may require CPAP (continuous positive air pressure) therapy, which can physically help “push” air throughout the night. For some patients, surgery may even be indicated. However, for mild to moderate sleep apneas, patients may benefit from oral appliances. Mandibular repositioning devices can help support the jaw in a “forward” position to prevent the airway from collapsing. These must be monitored closely by a dentist to ensure no damage is being done to the teeth or jaw joints (TMJ).

If you feel like you have any symptoms of sleep apnea or just have more questions, speak with your physician about it. You should also mention it to your dentist, so they can look for associated signs in the oral cavity. With a good night’s sleep, you’ll be on your way to a healthier, happier lifestyle.

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