Can Sleep Apnea Put My Health in Danger?

Oct 02, 2023
Can Sleep Apnea Put My Health in Danger?
If you have sleep apnea, it’s more than just a nuisance that prevents you from getting a full night’s rest. Learn more about the ways sleep apnea affects your health.

If you wake up in the morning with a headache or the feeling that you didn’t sleep at all, you might have sleep apnea. Perhaps you have a partner who tells you that you snore, even if you’re unaware of it.

This is more than just an uncomfortable nuisance; it could wreck your physical health as well. The providers at Whole Body Dental in Bellevue, Washington, explain more about the negative effects of sleep apnea on your overall health.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where you stop and start breathing repeatedly in the night. This disrupted breathing can lead to frustrating daily symptoms and potentially serious complications. 

Some common symptoms include: 

  • Waking up with a headache
  • Being unable to focus or pay attention while you’re awake
  • Waking up with a dry mouth
  • Loud snoring (which a partner may report)
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness

There are two different types of sleep apnea: central and obstructive. While central sleep apnea is a condition that you can’t prevent, obstructive sleep apnea often has to do with lifestyle habits.

Central sleep apnea happens because your brain doesn’t send signals to your muscles that control breathing. This can happen as a result of other conditions as well, such as heart failure or stroke, or sleeping at a high altitude.

Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the muscles of your throat become too relaxed while you sleep, blocking your airways. 

You may be at a higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea if you are:

  • Overweight or obese
  • Male
  • Over 40
  • Have a family history of smaller-than-average airways

Some of these factors you can’t control, but there are some lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce your risk or symptom severity. 

The risks of sleep apnea

Not being able to breathe while you sleep has many effects on your health, other than just making it harder to get through the day.

If you have obstructive sleep apnea, you may have an increased risk of the following health conditions:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Heart problems, including heart failure or a heart attack
  • Stroke or a Transient Ischemic Attack (sometimes called a “mini-stroke”)

In addition, a study found a higher risk of certain types of cancer among people with untreated sleep apnea.

What sleep apnea has to do with dentistry

You may be surprised to read about sleep apnea and dentistry together, but they are often closely linked. First of all, dentists can usually tell if you have sleep apnea, so you may get your first diagnosis of this illness from your dentist rather than a sleep specialist.

We can review your oral records, which can show the size of your airways and can be the first indicator that you’re not sleeping well at night.

If it’s suspected that you could have sleep apnea, we usually refer you to a specialist for a sleep study. While you sleep, you wear a watch that measures your heart rate and blood oxygen levels, recording any times that you stop breathing while sleeping and how many of these episodes occur each hour.

How we can treat sleep apnea

The standard treatment for sleep apnea was a machine called a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. However, some people find this difficult to adapt to using.

We can also prescribe night guards or oral appliances to wear while you sleep, which keeps your airways open. These appliances are designed to push your lower jaw slightly forward, which unblocks your airways and allows you to get enough oxygen while you sleep. This usually resolves the symptoms and takes away the health risks, too.

If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, or if your partner reports that you snore, you have alternatives other than sleeping in separate bedrooms. Contact the providers at Whole Body Dental today for an evaluation or request an appointment online.