Dental Sleep Medicine

If you or your significant other struggles with snoring and/or sleep apnea, learn if dental sleep medicine can help improve your sleep hygiene. Contact Saco River Dentistry to schedule an appointment with one of our knowledgeable dentists, and they will help you find the most beneficial treatment for your needs.

Sleep Risk Assessment

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition that can cause a loss of oxygen in the body over several periods of time throughout sleep. Lack of oxygen over time leads to sleep deprivation through stress on the cardiovascular system. This fatigue is often accompanied by snoring, fragmented sleep, and many awakenings. As the muscles and tissue of the airway continuously collapse, oxygen intake is reduced and can lead to a number of serious long-term complications, if left untreated. When a person’s breathing is regularly disrupted for periods of 10 seconds or longer every night, this can negatively affect their sleep quality and present as a variety of daytime symptoms. At Saco River Dentistry, our dentists are highly experienced in recognizing the risk factors of sleep disorders and providing first-line treatment. Our own Dr. Nicholas Roy has even been named a Qualified Dentist by the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. Through the use of custom oral appliance therapy, we can help you maintain a stable airway that prevents collapsibility and allows you to get a full night’s sleep, leaving you feeling refreshed in the morning.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

Many sleep apnea sufferers go undiagnosed because they do not realize they have a sleep-related breathing disorder. This is due to the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea not always being obvious. In fact, many cases of sleep apnea are not discovered by the individual but by a loved one, since they can better observe pauses in breathing, gasps for air, or loud snoring during the night. Although every case will differ, common signs that you may have a sleep disorder include the following:

  • Frequently waking up throughout the night
  • Waking up by choking or gasping for air
  • Loud snoring
  • Daytime fatigue and exhaustion
  • Headaches during the morning
  • Insomnia
  • Acid reflux
  • High blood pressure
What our patients say

“I have mild sleep apnea but was exhausted everyday. My need to nap was limiting family activities, especially ones on the weekends. The sleep appliance that was recommended by Saco River Dentistry has been instrumental in allowing me to regain the rest I need — and time with my family now that I no longer need to nap!” ~ Sara T.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

The most common type of sleep apnea is known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This is typically caused by the muscles and other soft tissues in the back of the throat relaxing to the point of restricting, if not completely blocking the airway. Risk factors for developing obstructive sleep apnea include obesity, a family history of the condition, inhaling tobacco smoke, and structural issues in the mouth or airway. While these can influence the likelihood of a person developing sleep apnea, some cases can occur without any of these factors. Many of these factors are genetic: small dental arches, large tonsils, constricted nasal passages and many other visible factors.

How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

The only way to diagnose sleep apnea is through a comprehensive sleep study. These tests are designed to evaluate your body while you sleep by monitoring your breathing, blood oxygen, brain activity, and more. If you suspect you may be suffering from sleep apnea, our team can refer you to a sleep study to determine if you have the condition.

What our patients say

“The staff at Saco River Dentistry are kind, compassionate and caring. Not only do they take good care of your teeth, they are now helping me with sleep apnea! Ray has helped me with a sleep study and the referral to a physician. I could not have imagined that a dentist office would help with sleep issues. Wonderful people, great responsive service.” ~ Suzanne K.

What Does Sleep Apnea Treatment Involve?

The most common method of treating obstructive sleep apnea is with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. CPAP therapy works to keep the airway open by delivering air through a headgear and ventilatory tubing. While this system is effective, CPAP therapy can often be uncomfortable and inconvenient, leading some to not wear their mask every night. As a result, these individuals do not receive the benefits this treatment has to offer.

As an alternative to CPAP therapy, our team is happy to help patients improve their sleep health and wellness with oral appliance therapy. Oral appliance therapy is regarded as a first line treatment option for patients, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Patients often regard this type of treatment as a pleasant, discrete, and convenient way to achieve a restful night of sleep. The treatment involves a custom-made oral device that is designed to fit comfortably in your mouth while you sleep. These appliances can often be used as an alternative to CPAP therapy for patients suffering from severe sleep apnea.

Additional Frequently Asked Questions About Sleep Apnea

Is snoring always a sign of sleep apnea?

Most people will snore occasionally, so the presence of snoring does not necessarily always indicate that someone has sleep apnea. That said, snoring is one of the most common symptoms of the disorder, so recurrent instances of snoring—especially in combination with other sleep apnea symptoms—should not be ignored. If you or a loved one snore often, it may be best to get evaluated for sleep apnea. This will allow you to either identify or rule out the condition, safeguarding your health and providing peace of mind.  

Who is at a high risk for sleep apnea?

While sleep apnea can technically affect anyone, there are a variety of factors that can increase a person’s risk for developing the condition. These factors include:

  • Gender: Statistically, men are more likely to develop sleep apnea than women.
  • Age: Sleep apnea is most commonly seen in those over 40 years of age. Postmenopausal women may also have a higher risk. 
  • Family History: There is a strong hereditary component associated with sleep apnea risk.
  • Genetics: Anatomical features such as a small lower jaw, thick neck, or large tonsils can increase your risk for developing sleep apnea.
  • Weight: Carrying excess weight can put pressure on the upper airway, increasing the risk for and severity of sleep apnea. 
  • Alcohol and Drug Use Before Bed: Alcohol and other drugs that have a sedative effect can disrupt your sleep cycle and over-relax the muscles that keep the airway open, heightening your chances of experiencing an apnea-related event. 

What can cause sleep apnea to get worse?

A number of factors can contribute to worsening sleep apnea symptoms, including;

  • Weight Fluctuations: Gaining weight can cause fat to accumulate around the neck, putting excess pressure on the airway and increasing the risk of airway collapse during sleep. 
  • Sleep Position: Sleeping on your back can cause the tongue to relax deeper into the mouth and/or throat, increasing the risk that it will block off the airway and inhibit proper breathing. 
  • Alcohol: Alcohol has a depressive effect, and when consumed before bed, it can overly relax the muscles that normally keep the airway open. 
  • Smoking: Smoking can cause the tissues of the throat, mouth, and tongue to become inflamed, causing the airway to narrow.
  • Certain Medications: Medications such as muscle relaxers and sleep aids can heighten the risks associated with sleep apnea by over-relaxing the muscles that keep the airway open. Sleep aids can also cause apnea events to last longer, as they make it more difficult for the body to naturally wake itself in response to pauses in breathing. This reduces oxygen to the brain and places increased stress on the body and heart. 
  • Certain Health Conditions: A number of health conditions have been linked with worsening sleep apnea, including diabetes and cardiovascular conditions. 

When is sleep apnea considered severe?

Sleep apnea severity is typically evaluated using the Apnea Hypopnea Index (AHI). During a sleep study, the number of apnea (pauses in breathing) and hypopnea (constricted breaths) events that occur per hour are recorded. These events are then used to calculate the severity of sleep apnea. An AHI of 30 or more is typically considered “severe,” as this indicates that your breathing was disrupted at least 30 times within a single hour. An AHI of 15-29 falls in the “moderate” sleep apnea range, and an AHI of 5-14 is typically considered “mild.” That said, any pauses in breathing and apnea-related sleep disruptions have the potential to result in serious side effects and medical concerns. Once you have received a diagnosis from a qualified professional, it is important to follow their instructions and avoid any habits or activities that could potentially worsen your sleep apnea. 

How can sleep apnea affect the heart?

When breathing is disrupted for any amount of time, the oxygen levels in the blood drop, forcing the heart to work harder in order to pump blood and circulate oxygen. Apnea events can also activate the sympathetic nervous system, which produces the stress hormone epinephrine (adrenaline), which then circulates throughout the body. For patients with sleep apnea, instances of disrupted breathing can happen hundreds of times per night. Over time, this means that the cardiovascular system is continuously overtaxed and unable to rest during sleep, potentially leading to serious issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. 

If you struggle with snoring and/or sleep apnea, learn if dental sleep medicine can help improve your sleep hygiene. Contact Saco River Dentistry to schedule an appointment with one of our knowledgeable dentists, and they will help you find the most beneficial treatment for your needs.