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Do you often wake up in the morning feeling as though you haven’t slept a wink, or are you constantly tired throughout the day? Perhaps your partner nudges you all night long to tell you that you’re snoring? If this sounds familiar, you might have sleep apnea.

What is sleep apnea?

The Greek word “apnea” means without breath. Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes you to stop breathing periodically throughout the night. These episodes of not breathing can last from 10 seconds to one minute or more, and can easily happen up to 100 times per night. Left untreated, sleep apnea can result in a stroke, heart attack, irregular heartbeats and other serious health concerns.

3 types of sleep apnea

Although the sleep-breathing disorder is commonly referred to as just “sleep apnea”, there are actually three different types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central and mixed.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common of these three sleep disorders. The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine reports that approximately 25 million Americans have obstructive sleep apnea. People with obstructive sleep apnea have partially or completely blocked airways during sleep. This can happen, for instance, when the throat muscles relax allowing the tongue to fall back into the airway, or if you have enlarged tonsils. Central sleep apnea can be thought of as miscommunication between your brain and the muscles that control breathing. Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of these.

How do I know if I have sleep apnea?

The most common way to diagnosis sleep apnea is with a sleep study. If your doctor believes you have obstructive sleep apnea, a simple physical examination of your mouth, throat and neck may be performed to check for excessive fatty tissues or enlarged tonsils or adenoids, both of which can block your airways.

The American Sleep Apnea Association has also created a Snore Score quiz to help you determine if you may have sleep apnea. If you answer yes to one or more of these Snore Score questions, the American Sleep Apnea Association recommends consulting your doctor for further evaluation:

  • Are you a loud and/or regular snorer?

  • Have you ever been observed to gasp or stop breathing during sleep?

  • Do you feel tired or groggy upon awakening, or do you awaken with a headache?

  • Are you often tired or fatigued during waking hours?

  • Do you fall asleep sitting, reading, watching TV or driving?

  • Do you often have problems with memory or concentration?

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

A sleep doctor will administer either a home sleep test or perform an in-lab sleep study. With a home sleep test, your sleep doctor will give you a kit to take home that will monitor and record your heart rate, airflow, breathing patterns and blood oxygen levels. You then return the kit to the sleep doctor who interprets the data. A home sleep test is usually only administered if the sleep doctor thinks you have obstructive sleep apnea.

If the sleep doctor isn’t sure what type of sleep apnea you have or thinks you may have another sleep disorder entirely, such as narcolepsy, for instance, you will likely be required to stay overnight for a more comprehensive in-lab sleep study, known as polysomnography. As the Mayo Clinic reports, “Polysomnography records your brain waves, the oxygen level in your blood, heart rate and breathing, as well as eye and leg movements during the study.”

How is sleep apnea treated?

The treatment option that is right for you will depend on the type of sleep apnea you have, as well as how severe it is. Some common sleep apnea treatment options arepositive airway pressure (PAP) therapy, which is a respiratory ventilation machine that you wear when sleeping, surgery to remove any obstruction, and oral appliance therapy.

One type of oral appliance therapy is the use of a sleep apnea mouth guard, commonly used to treat obstructive sleep apnea. The custom-fit mouth guard prevents blockage of the airways by repositioning your jaw, tongue, and palate while you sleep.

Sleep apnea dentist

If you have obstructive sleep apnea and are interested in learning about or getting a sleep apnea mouth guard, make an appointment with your dentist. A sleep apnea mouth guard can cost upward of $2,000 for the fittings, the device itself and dental visits, but the cost could be significantly less if you have a dental savings plan.

It’s important to note that a dental savings plan is not the same thing as dental insurance. Dental savings plans work like a club membership. For an annual or monthly membership fee, you get access to network of dental professionals who provide discounts between 10% and 60% off the cost of dental care.

As mentioned earlier, sleep apnea can have serious consequences if left untreated. Be sure to consult your doctor or dentist as soon as possible for an evaluation and treatment if you suspect you’re suffering from sleep apnea.

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