Sleep apnea is the most serious form of sleep disordered breathing. If you have it, your breathing may stop hundreds of times a night, forcing your brain to awaken partly to restore breathing. You are likely unaware that you’re waking up, or, if you are aware, you may attribute it to the need to urinate or nightmares. Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to cognitive difficulties, heart problems, and metabolic disorders. Fortunately, many successful treatments are available.
It can be hard to diagnose because it occurs while you’re asleep. However, during the day you may notice a number of symptoms, such as:
- Waking up short of breath
- Morning headaches
- Dry mouth on waking
- Tendency to fall asleep during work or while driving
- Waking up unrested
- Moodiness or irritability
- Memory problems
- Concentration difficulties
- Weight gain or inability to lose weight
Understanding Sleep Apnea
It occurs when your breathing stops at night. The most common form is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when your airway collapses during sleep. This cuts off your air supply: you are literally being choked by your own throat.
Central sleep apnea occurs when your brain forgets to tell your body to breathe, until it notices an oxygen shortage then has to awaken enough to resume breathing. Most people with this condition also have obstructive sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea can be due to heart problems caused by obstructive sleep apnea or may be a side effect of the most common treatment, CPAP.
About half of sufferers have TMJ, and all are prone to developing TMJ. At the Michigan Center for TMJ & Sleep Wellness, our interdisciplinary training and thorough approach ensures that every patient under our care receives treatments that are therapeutic.
Sleep Apnea Treatments
Although there are many dangers, it is also a condition with many successful treatments which can all but eliminate its dangerous consequences.
CPAP is the most commonly used frontline treatment. It uses an air pump, mask, and hose arrangement to force air into your throat and lungs. This keeps your airway open and ensures a steady supply of oxygen. It is a highly effective treatment, when used. Unfortunately, CPAP compliance rates are relatively low, even when the definition of compliance is set so low that being technically compliant may not yield good therapeutic benefits.
Oral appliance therapy uses your jaw to help keep your airway open. Since your jaw is the main bony support for your throat, moving your jaw can prevent airway collapse. People feel better about this treatment, which can be more convenient and comfortable, so they are more likely to use it. The only problem with this treatment is that it can lead to jaw problems like TMJ when used by dentists who don’t take adequate care. TMJ and sleep apnea are closely related because of the close relationship between the jaw and the airway. At our office, we take care to treat patients as though they already had TMJ and craft oral appliances that ensure a comfortable jaw position that doesn’t promote and may actually treat TMJ.
Surgery can also be used, but it is recommended only as a last resort. Surgery has low success rates, high complication rates, and high recession rates—even if it works, your sleep apnea is likely to return, though it may be less than before.