Snoring is more than just an annoying habit that keeps your bed partner awake. In fact, it can be a symptom of a serious health problem.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts during the night. This results in not getting enough oxygen into the bloodstream. Left untreated, it can lead to heart problems, high blood pressure, stroke, and even death. It’s estimated as many as 38,000 people a year die from heard disease linked directly to sleep apnea. “Star Wars” actress Carrie Fisher, legendary TV journalist Tim Russert, and NFL great Reggie White are a just a few of the famous people whose deaths were attributed to sleep apnea.
And even when it’s not causing life-threatening health problems, side effects include headaches, drowsiness during the day, poor performance at work or school, and motor vehicle crashes.
Some studies have shown that 50 percent of kids diagnosed with ADHD have sleep issues. There’s a fascinating YouTube video called “Finding Connor Deegan” about a young man diagnosed with ADHD whose mother explored some other options. She brought him to a doctor who worked with a dentist to open his airway, and his whole personality changed because now he’s getting a full night’s sleep.
So why would a dentist be involved in treating sleep apnea? Well, a lot of the causes can be found in the mouth. It can be a large tongue, large tonsils, a small jawbone, or other obstructions. People think the mouth is just about your teeth and how you chew, but there’s a lot more to it, including breathing.
The most common treatment for sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP), which is a mask that fits over the nose and/or mouth and gently blows air into the airway to help keep it open during sleep. While this can be effective, a lot of people find it uncomfortable and inconvenient. Statistically, 70 to 86 percent of patients who are recommended to use the CPAP don’t use it.
Fortunately, there are some effective alternatives, including Mandibular Advancement Devices, which bring the lower jaw forward just a little bit to open the airway in the back behind the tongue. There are also tongue-retaining mouthpieces, nasal devices, and other appliances that can help.
Of course, the easiest solution (or perhaps the hardest, depending on the patient) could be to lose some weight. Being overweight is one of the biggest risk factors associated with sleep apnea.
The bottom line is this: With all the ways available to treat sleep apnea, there’s no excuse for not doing something about it. If your partner complains about your snoring or notices that you go 10, 15 or even 30 seconds without breathing while you sleep, or if you find yourself still tired when you wake up, tell your doctor and have a sleep study done.
In this week’s episode of the “Your Filthy Mouth” podcast, we go into much greater detail about sleep apnea and how your mouth can be a key in finding a solution.
We also answer questions from listeners. This week, David asks since his mouth doesn’t hurt, does that mean everything is OK? (Spoiler alert: not necessarily).
I also urge you to check out our website – www.yourfilthymouth.com – where you can listen to past episodes, read previous blog posts, watch videos and check out dozens of links to information about how what happens in your mouth can affect the rest of your body. This is a serious topic, but we always try to keep things fun and entertaining. Be sure to drop us a line and let us know what you think.
Until next week …
Charles “Dr. Chuck” Reinertsen, DMD, has been practicing dentistry in Central Florida since 1979 and is author of the book, “The Power of a Really Great Smile.” His passion is spreading the word about how the health of your mouth is intrinsically linked to the rest of your body. Learn more at www.yourfilthymouth.com.