While you might know that sleep apnea is considered a potentially serious health condition, you may not be aware of its other effects on the human body. With Sleeping Disorder Awareness Week being observed June 1-7 this year, now is the perfect time to refamiliarize yourself with the condition.
Sleep apnea is a fairly common sleeping condition that occurs when the upper airway becomes blocked during sleep, causing breathing to repeatedly start and stop throughout the night. Sleep apnea often results in poor sleep quality and can lead to medical and dental complications.
Sleep apnea side effects are linked to poor oral health and chronic disease risk factors, which is why treating this sleep disorder is so important. Knowing the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea (and how it’s treated) can help maximize your oral—and overall—health and wellness.
The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Oral Health
Believe it or not, your quality of sleep can affect your oral health. A 2017 study published in Clinical Oral Investigations notes that sleep disorders, especially sleep deprivation, can weaken the immune system and boost your risk for gum disease. Researchers who conducted the study say sleep disorders are associated with higher levels of gum inflammation, and report that study subjects with inflammation had increased risks for developing heart disease. The risks for both tooth decay and gum disease are increased when sleep apnea is accompanied by waking up with a dry mouth.
Another 2017 study published in Clujul Medical offers similar findings. Upon evaluating 230 participants, researchers were able to confirm that fatigue caused by poor sleep is associated with poor dental health.
Sleep Apnea Risk Factors and Side Effects
According to SleepApnea.org, 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea and certain population groups have higher risks of developing the disorder. Sleep apnea risk factors include a family history of sleep apnea, having a thick neck and small airways, being overweight, male, of older age or a smoker, using alcohol or sedatives, experiencing chronic nasal congestion (from allergies, for example) and having enlarged adenoids or tonsils.
Recognizing sleep apnea side effects when they occur can help people know when to seek treatment. Common signs to watch for include loud snoring, gasping for air during sleep, periods of absent or reduced breathing, excessive tiredness during the day, poor concentration and memory, a dry mouth or sore throat upon waking, morning headaches, irritability, decreased sex drive, difficulty staying asleep, waking up abruptly with shortness of breath and waking up often during the night to urinate.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
Treatments for sleep apnea vary by severity. Doctors and dentists may recommend simple lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, getting regular exercise, avoiding alcohol and losing weight. Treating allergies can help, as well.
Dentists can provide patients with oral devices that reposition the jaw and keep the throat and airway open during sleep. Regular dental visits are required when wearing oral appliances for sleep apnea, in order to assess fit and evaluate improvements in signs and symptoms.
Doctors may prescribe certain devices for more severe cases of sleep apnea—such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV) and bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machines—which deliver air pressure through a mask to keep airways open. Expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP) devices can also be placed over nostrils to improve breathing at night.
If medically necessary, many health insurance plans cover all or part of sleep apnea treatments. This includes dental devices, CPAP treatment and other positive airway pressure options.
Sleep Apnea Prevention
There are several preventive measures that can help prevent sleep apnea from hindering the quality of day-to-day life. It’s recommended that patients avoid tobacco products, lose weight (if overweight or obese), exercise regularly, avoid taking tranquilizers at night, use saline spray, treat seasonal allergies and avoid sleeping on the back (to keep nasal passages open during sleep).
Addressing Sleep Apnea in the Workplace
Employers who address sleep apnea can help the workforce maintain better overall health and wellness, including improved oral health. Treating sleep apnea can boost employee performance, as fatigue and poor concentration are key symptoms of the disorder.
To get the word out, communicate the importance of sleep apnea treatment and prevention with newsletters, posters, emails or employee wellness programs. These measures can help maximize employees’ health, wellness, satisfaction and productivity in the workplace.