A person who has trouble sleeping or staying asleep is said to have a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders cover several medical issues - physical and physiological - that disrupt sleep. Sleep apnea is one such sleep disorder where the person experiences interruptions in breathing during sleep. This causes a reduction in oxygen levels in the blood, causing the individual to wake up from his or her sleep. This may occur hundreds of times in a person’s sleep, leaving a significant impact on the quality of sleep.
Children, too, may suffer from sleep apnea. In fact, 20% of children who snore habitually suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can also have an effect on dental health and is a life-threatening condition if left untreated.
Not all breathing interruptions in sleep are caused by the same reason. Sleep apnea can be classified into three broad types based on the causes:
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
The most common of the three types, Obstructive Sleep Apnea, is caused by blockage of the airway. In this case, the tongue collapses against the soft palate of the mouth, causing the back of the throat to be blocked. The person, hence, does not have access to oxygen supply and is awoken.
Central Sleep Apnea
Central Sleep Apnea is a sleep disorder wherein the brain fails to pass the signal to the respiratory muscles to keep breathing. In this case, again, shortness of breath wakes the person up so that he or she may be able to breathe comfortably.
Complex Sleep Apnea
Complex Sleep Apnea is a combination of both Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Central Sleep Apnea.
Sleep apnea may interrupt sleep, but most people, especially children, would not have any recollection of the same. They may feel sleep-deprived, irritable, exhausted throughout the day, have difficulty concentrating in school, or be hyperactive. These signs are often ignored - only to be brought to light during the biannual dental checkup.
In more instances than one, dentists are the earliest to diagnose sleep disorders as it may have visible effects on oral health. Involuntary jaw clenches (or teeth grinding), aimed at preventing the airway from getting blocked, can lead to teeth becoming worn out, chipped, or broken. Sleep apnea can also have dire effects, such as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) and periodontitis. TMD can also cause severe headaches, neck pain, and shoulder pain. These symptoms are easily noticeable by dentists who may ask about sleep patterns to diagnose and treat sleep apnea.
Dentists always emphasize the importance of biannual dental health checkups, especially for children. Dentists can help detect early signs of sleep apnea and offer devices that may help prevent the condition from getting worse. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines that apply air pressure in the throat to keep the airways open, Mandibular Advancement Devices (MAD) that allow the lower jaw to be at ease, and the Tongue Retaining Device that helps keep the tongue in place while asleep are but a few dental appliances that can help with sleep apnea. Mouthguards and splints, on the other hand, may help with preventing teeth grinding. Thus, dentists can detect the root cause of sleep apnea, chalk out a treatment plan for the same, and refer you to other medical specialists if necessary.
Now that you know all about sleep apnea and how a dentist can treat it, there is no reason to panic about your child’s sleep disorder. Simply give us a call at (408) 377-8200 for an appointment, and we will guide you in finding the best possible solution to help your child get sound sleep.