Sleep Apnea & Snoring
Home / Advanced, General, & Cosmetic Dentistry / Sleep Apnea & Snoring
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a prevalent condition that is characterized by frequent pauses in breathing when a person sleeps. According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 18 million people in the United States suffer from sleep apnea, many of whom have not been officially diagnosed. When sleep apnea goes unnoticed, people cannot receive the treatment they need. Initially, this can lead to daily issues such as headaches, fatigue, and poor memory. Over time, sleep apnea can lead to more serious health concerns, including diabetes, hypertension, and stroke. Although sleep apnea can be a dangerous condition, Dr. Martin Gorman offers effective treatment options to manage the condition to reduce the risk of developing life-threatening problems.
To learn more about sleep apnea and the advantages of treatment with Dr. Gorman, we invite you to browse the sections on this page and/or contact our practice today to schedule an appointment.
- Sleep Apnea Types
- Causes of Sleep Apnea
- Sleep Apnea Signs & Symptoms
- Do I Have Sleep Apnea?
- Risks of Sleep Apnea
- Sleep Apnea Treatments
- The Breathing Wellness Movement
- Sleep Apnea FAQs
Sleep Apnea Types
Sleep apnea can be categorized into three different types:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea: The most common form, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the airway has been blocked, such as from tissue relaxing in the back of the throat.
- Central Sleep Apnea: When central sleep apnea (CSA) is present, the brain does not send the proper signals to the muscles responsible for breathing.
- Mixed Sleep Apnea: Mixed, or complex, sleep apnea involves a combination of both central and obstructive sleep apnea.
The best form of treatment will vary based on which type of sleep apnea has developed. To learn about the next steps for addressing your condition, you will first need to schedule a sleep study to receive a diagnosis, after which you can discuss your treatment options with Dr. Gorman.
Causes of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by the the muscles and soft tissues in the throat, mouth, or nose relaxing to the point of narrowing the breathing passages. As the airway becomes smaller, breathing becomes more difficult, and the tissues in the back of the throat may begin to vibrate with every breath, due to forcing air through the decreased space. These vibrations produce the sound we associate with snoring. Although snoring does not always mean a person has sleep apnea, this may be a warning sign they are not getting enough oxygen at night. In addition to snoring loudly, people suffering from sleep apnea may experience several pauses in breathing, lasting 10 seconds or more.
Since sleep apnea reduces a person’s ability to breathe properly, possibly limiting the oxygen to their brain, it is vital for those who suspect may have the condition to seek our treatment.
Sleep Apnea Signs and Symptoms
While some people may notice they have obstructive sleep apnea, most cases are first discovered by family members. This is because the signs and symptoms are more obvious to those around the sufferer. Common indications that a person has sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring.
- Gasping or choking during the night.
- Headaches in the morning.
- Sore throat or dry mouth after waking up.
- Difficulty remembering and concentrating.
- Increased need to urinate during the night.
These symptoms typically occur because the individual cannot breathe properly as they sleep, disrupting their quality of sleep. As a result, people tend to feel especially fatigued throughout the day and may have issues trying to stay awake.
Do I Have Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)?
Although OSA is the most common manifestation of sleep apnea, the breathing disorder commonly goes undiagnosed because key symptoms—such as snoring and pauses in breathing—occur at night while a patient is asleep. Nevertheless, obstructive sleep apnea can pose a great risk to an individual’s health and well-being, with these disruptions in breathing often culminating in daytime symptoms as well as cardiovascular and blood pressure problems. A consultation with Dr. Gorman can help determine whether you may be affected by obstructive sleep apnea (an official diagnosis can be obtained from a physician), but the following checklist can help you gain a more thorough understanding of whether your symptoms may be an indication of OSA:
- I snore. Since snoring typically acts as the response to a partially closed airway, snoring can be a telltale sign of the excessive relaxation of soft tissues in the throat (a symptom of OSA). It is estimated that one in three patients who snore are affected by obstructive sleep apnea.
- I breath through my mouth. Mouth breathing cancels the ability to filter out pollutants, allergens, pesticides, smog, pollen, and other microbes when taking in oxygen, often causing swelling and inflammation of the throat that can restrict the airways.
- I often feel tired and unenergetic during the day. Daytime sleepiness is a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, as patients who experience frequent pauses in breathing while asleep may fail to spend adequate time in the deeper sleep stages, resulting in fatigue and sleepiness throughout the day.
- I have a chronic cough, sore throat, or difficulty swallowing. Throat issues have a high correlation to cases of OSA, with conditions like Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and sleep apnea often occurring together. A dry mouth and sore throat upon waking up can be an effect of breathing through the mouth, which is considered dysfunctional breathing that is likely to inflame the tissues of the throat.
When your breathing pauses for more than ten seconds at a time while asleep (an event characteristic of sleep apnea), the “fight or flight” response in the Sympathetic Nervous System activates and releases stress hormones—such as cortisol—into the bloodstream. These elevated cortisol levels can result in increased blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia, an increased hunger drive, and other health hazards over time if the breathing disorder is left untreated. For these reasons, timely evaluation of your symptoms and proactive treatment is essential.
What Are the Risks of Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea that goes untreated can lead to a wide range of issues. People living with the condition who do not receive prompt treatment are at a higher risk of experiencing the following:
- Loud Snoring
- Snorting or Gasping for Air
- Frequent Nighttime Urination
- Morning Headaches
- Daytime Sleepiness
- Memory Loss
- Lack of Energy
- Drowsy Driving
- Excessive Stress
- Cardiovascular Strain
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Increased Risk for Accidents
- Weight Gain
- High Blood Pressure
Sleep Apnea Treatments
When sleep apnea is addressed with the proper treatment, risks associated with the condition are significantly reduced. After the patient has received a sleep apnea diagnosis, Dr. Gorman will talk with them about their symptoms, review their medical history, and may perform a scan utilizing state-of-the-art dental technology to evaluate possible obstructions. Once he is familiar with the details of their condition, Dr. Gorman will create a personalized treatment plan with the goal of improving their nighttime breathing. This often involves the use of a custom-fitted dental appliance the patient will wear while sleeping.
If the patient’s sleep apnea is being caused by the tongue relaxing in the throat, a tongue-retaining device may be the ideal treatment for maintaining an open airway. Should an abnormal jaw position be causing breathing difficulties, Dr. Gorman may recommend a special device to correct this alignment, such as a mouthpiece or a device strapped around the head. Oral devices used to address sleep apnea are removable and typically resemble athletic mouth guards.
Dr. Gorman: The Breathing Wellness Movement
Dr. Gorman is a part of the breathing wellness movement, which aims to increase awareness and improve treatment for sleep-related airway conditions like sleep apnea. He has partnered with organizations focused on collaborating with dentists to apply the sciences of Craniofacial Epigenetics (the study of cranial modifications caused by gene expression as opposed to genetic code alteration) and Pneumopedics® (the practical application of oral appliance therapy and non-surgical airway remodeling) in the management of sleep apnea. Together, the application of these sciences allows for underlying causes of airway obstruction to be treated in 98% of cases, resulting in a high success rate among sleep apnea patients.
For every sleep apnea case at our practice, Dr. Gorman will gather patient data and determine the patient’s specific needs based on home sleep test results, dental impressions, CT scan, and images. Our state-of-the-art technology paired with Dr. Gorman’s experience with sleep disorders allows him to find the most effective treatment plan for each individual’s particular case, yielding improved daytime and nighttime breathing for the patient.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sleep Apnea
Does snoring always indicate sleep apnea?
Since virtually everyone snores occasionally, snoring may not necessarily indicate a definitive diagnosis of sleep apnea. However, snoring is one of the most common signs of the disorder, so if you or a loved one snores on a regular basis, it would be wise to get evaluated for sleep apnea by a qualified professional to either identify or rule out this serious condition.
Who is at a high risk for sleep apnea?
Generally speaking, sleep apnea is more commonly seen in males than in females, as well as in individuals over 40 in comparison to kids and young adults. That said, anyone can develop the condition—despite gender or age. Some of the biggest factors that contribute to a heightened risk for sleep apnea include:
- A family history of sleep apnea and/or snoring
- Excess weight or obesity
- Large tonsils
- A thick neck
- A small lower jaw
- Narrow airways
- Alcohol consumption before bed
- Frequent nasal congestion
- Low thyroid levels
- High growth hormone levels
If any of these high risk factors apply to you (or a loved one) and signs of sleep apnea are present, you may wish to consult with Dr. Gorman about your current likelihood of having or developing the condition. He can help you obtain a proper diagnosis, as well as customize the best sleep apnea treatment for your particular case.
What makes sleep apnea worse?
The severity of sleep apnea and its various symptoms can be exacerbated by numerous factors, such as:
- Weight Gain – Excess weight can cause tissues in and around the airway to bulk up, heightening the potential for the airway to collapse when muscles relax during sleep.
- Sleep Position – Sleeping on your back can cause the tongue to relax deeper into the mouth/throat, limiting proper airflow.
- Alcohol – Increased muscle relaxation triggered by alcohol that is consumed close to bedtime can cause the tongue and tissues of the throat to obstruct the airway more so than normal during sleep.
- Certain Medications – Similar to alcohol, medicines like muscle relaxers and sleeping aids can create greater airway obstruction than normal due to muscle over-relaxation. In addition, sleeping pills can cause apnea episodes to last longer since waking up requires a more significant respiratory event, leading to lengthier pauses in breathing.
- Diabetes – Not only can the severity of sleep apnea affect certain symptoms of diabetes, but poor control of glucose levels has conversely been linked to more serious cases of sleep apnea.
- Smoking – Over time, chemicals in cigarette smoke can inflame muscles and soft tissues in the mouth and throat, effectively narrowing the airway.
If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, maintaining control—or, if possible, complete avoidance—of these factors is imperative to the successful management and treatment of the condition.
What is considered severe sleep apnea?
The Apnea Hypopnea Index (AHI) is commonly used to determine the severity of sleep apnea. Recorded during sleep studies, AHI values indicate the combined number of pauses in breathing (apneas) and constricted breaths (hypopneas) that occur each hour of sleep. An AHI of 30 or more—meaning at least 30 apneas and/or hypopneas were recorded per hour—is classified as “severe” sleep apnea. For reference, an AHI of 15–29 is considered “moderate” sleep apnea and an AHI of 5–14 is deemed “mild” sleep apnea. That being said, even as few as five apneas and/or hypopneas per hour can lead to many of the detrimental side effects and medical complications associated with sleep apnea.
How does sleep apnea affect the heart?
When breathing stops for any period of time, oxygen levels in the blood drop. In response, the heart works harder to pump blood, and the body naturally releases a stress hormone known as epinephrine (adrenaline). When this happens regularly—as it does for individuals with sleep apnea—the cardiovascular system is continually over-taxed, and elevated adrenaline levels in the blood repeatedly circulate throughout the heart and body. Over time, this combination of cardiovascular strain and heightened stimuli in the blood can lead to chronic high blood pressure and the progression—or even cause—of heart disease.
Contact Gorman Dental Center
If you have any questions about sleep apnea, or would like to learn about your treatment options, please contact Gorman Dental Center to schedule an appointment.