Millions of Americans have sleep apnea, a chronic condition that affects the way you breathe during sleep — and many men and women don’t even know they have the condition. That’s because those interruptions can be very brief — sometimes lasting only a few seconds, but occurring dozens and even hundreds of times every night. Without treatment, sleep apnea can take a major toll on your quality of sleep — and that can have major implications on both your health and your quality of life.
Since sleep is so important for maintaining good physical and mental health, it’s really no surprise that a condition that interrupts your sleep is going to have some negative effects on your well-being. What might be surprising is how serious those effects can be. Of course, one of the most obvious effects is daytime drowsiness. If you’re sleepy during the daytime, it can take a toll on your performance at work and school, and it can also make you more irritable. People who suffer from drowsiness during the day are more likely to make mistakes that can wind up costing them their jobs or even causing injuries to themselves or to others. Without treatment, ongoing drowsiness and its effects can lead to depression, anxiety and other serious mental health issues.
Studies show obstructive sleep apnea also increases your risks for other serious and chronic medical problems, including strokes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Over time, chronic sleep deprivation can even result in early death. Lack of sleep can also result in hormonal imbalances, increasing your risks for weight gain, irritability and, potentially, your fertility. That’s a lot of serious medical problems — all stemming from poor sleep. Fortunately, treating sleep apnea can help improve your sleep and decrease your risks for all these issues — as long as you find a treatment that works for you.
If you have apnea (or think you might), you’ve probably heard a lot about CPAP devices. CPAP is short for continuous positive airway pressure, which more or less describes what it does. Since obstructive apnea occurs when your airway “collapses” multiple times each night, CPAP works by pumping in a continuous stream of air to help keep your airway open. It sounds good, and it can be effective; however, in order to work, you need to wear a mask every night while you sleep. That mask is attached to a hose, which in turn is attached to the CPAP machine. Many patients find the mask uncomfortable, and they also find the hoses make it difficult to turn and move during sleep. The result: CPAP therapy winds up causing lots of sleep disturbances, which can take a toll on both the quality and the quantity of sleep you’re able to get. As a result, plenty of patients wind up skipping the mask entirely, which of course means their sleep apnea isn’t being treated — and that means they’re at risk for all the problems associated with apnea.
At The Woodlands Dental Group, Dr. David B. Epstein and Dr. Vakil offer another solution called oral appliance therapy or OAT. In this treatment, Dr. Epstein fits you for a mandibular repositioning device, or MRD, that you wear while you sleep. An MRD is kind of like a mouth guard, and it’s custom-designed to fit your teeth so it’s very comfortable to wear — even while you’re sleeping. With an MRD, your jaw position is shifted forward slightly — just enough to keep your airway open. That means your breathing is uninterrupted, so you can get a good night’s sleep (and avoid the risks of apnea) without relying on a cumbersome and uncomfortable CPAP device. Regular adjustments in our office ensure your device remains effective and comfortable for your needs.
At The Woodlands Dental Group, we offer state-of-the-art custom care solutions for patients with obstructive sleep apnea, helping them breathe better at night — and enjoy better health 24 hours a day. If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea or if you suffer from daytime drowsiness or other symptoms of apnea, we can help. To learn more about MRD therapy and how it can help improve your sleep and your health, contact the practice today.