Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that interrupts sleep and can lead to a wide variety of major health problems, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even shortened life expectancy. Symptoms that are less serious, but still have a large impact on quality of life, including excessive sleepiness, cognitive impairments, moodiness, and decreased libido.
Sleep apnea is caused by a problem with the airway. Excess soft tissue, large tonsils or adenoids, a small lower jaw, or a jaw that’s too far back, are all common underlying causes of the airway obstruction.
In obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), oxygen flow is actually interrupted several times during the night as the airway is blocked and breathing stops for several seconds or minutes at a time. When breathing starts again, it often does so with a loud snort or choking sound. There are treatment options for sleep apnea, including CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) devices.
But today I’m interested in discussing prevention, not treatment. Here are some things you can do that can lessen your risk of developing sleep apnea.
Risk factors for OSA include a BMI of 30 or higher (you can calculate your own BMI here) and a neck circumference of 17 inches or larger. Carrying excess weight can change the physiology of the throat, which can lead to obstructed airways during sleep. Getting down to a healthy weight will reduce your risk of developing OSA.
Smokers are more likely to have OSA than people who have never smoked, as smoking causes inflammation in the airway. Stop smoking and the inflammation will reduce, also reducing your risks for sleep apnea.
Avoid Sleeping on Your Back
When you sleep on your back, gravity naturally pulls your tongue and other soft tissues of the mouth down, obstructing the airway. It’s better to sleep on your side.
Avoid Alcohol, Sedatives, and Sleeping Pills Before Bed
These all relax the muscles, including the muscles of the throat, which can lead to an obstructed airway.
Get Appropriate Dental and Orthodontic Care
It’s becoming more widely known that dentists and orthodontists can help many patients treat their sleep apnea through the use of oral appliances or even orthodontic treatment. But unfortunately, the wrong treatment in the first place can make sleep apnea more likely.
For example, some providers choose to pull teeth to fix overcrowding or to give emerging permanent teeth space to come in. While this may fix one problem, it can create another, as the tongue may be forced back into the mouth, leading to OSA.
How do you know if your dental or orthodontic treatment will have an impact on sleep apnea? Ask. Speak with your dentist or orthodontist about the risks. If you’re in any doubt about what he or she says, consider getting a second opinion. You don’t want to get any treatment that could cause problems in the future.
Prevention and Cure of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a serious condition. Follow the steps above to prevent developing it in the future, and if you know or suspect you already suffer from it, take steps now to seek treatment. Look for a dentist or orthodontist who specializes in treating sleep apnea or talk to a sleep specialist. By treating it, you’ll not only improve your day-to-day quality of life, but you may be saving your life, as well.