Sleep apnea affects your ability to get a good night's rest. People with sleep apnea often don't get enough oxygen at night, because their airways collapse while they're sleeping due to insufficient muscle tension. This lack of oxygen can cause distressing symptoms. It can be dangerous in severe cases, so proper treatment is necessary.
Patients are sometimes surprised to learn that dentists can help them manage their sleep apnea. Dental sleep medicine is a field of dentistry specifically created to help people with sleep problems. Here are four things that will happen when you see a dentist for sleep apnea treatment:
1. You will discuss your symptoms.
When you first see a dental sleep specialist, you will need to describe your symptoms in detail. Bring up anything relevant to your sleep quality, no matter how small the detail seems. Snoring is a commonly reported symptom of sleep apnea. Waking up feeling tired and sleeping for long hours are also signs of the condition.
2. You may participate in a sleep study.
You may be asked to participate in a sleep study to confirm your condition. Sleep studies can be performed in a sleep lab or in your own home. During the study, you will be attached to machines that measure the quality of your sleep. The study will also measure your respiration rate and blood oxygen levels throughout the night.
3. You will be prescribed oral appliance therapy.
Breathing is an autonomous, unconscious process. Your nose, mouth, and trachea must be clear for proper breathing to take place. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when part of this airway system gets blocked. The blockage can occur in your mouth, nose, or your windpipe itself. If your obstructive sleep apnea originates in your mouth, oral appliance therapy can help.
Oral appliance therapy utilizes a mouthguard that widens the space between your upper and lower teeth while you sleep. This extra space can give you more room to breathe. The rigid mouthguard can also provide support for your soft palate, to prevent it from collapsing while you rest.
4. You may also need a CPAP machine.
CPAP machines provide continuous pressure to the airways by blowing air into your nostrils as you sleep. This gentle pressure can help you sleep more easily since you will not wake up feeling short of breath. The CPAP machine is kept next to your bed at night. It's connected to your nose and mouth using a tube that attaches to a mask. Your dentist can prescribe you a CPAP machine if they believe you'll benefit from the treatment.