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Sleep apnea is a serious and potentially life threatening disorder involving repeated pauses in breathing while asleep. The most common form of this condition is obstructive sleep apnea. This occurs when there is an obstruction of an individual’s airway that interferes with the flow of oxygen through the nose or mouth during sleep. In someone afflicted with obstructive sleep apnea, the muscles of the throat and mouth relax during sleep to the point where they fall back into the upper airway and create a blockage that restricts breathing.
The signs and symptoms of this disorder during sleeping hours may include, loud snoring, episodes of breathing cessation, abrupt awakenings, episodes of gasping for air, along with difficulties getting a good night’s sleep. An individual with sleep apnea will exhibit problems during the day as well. Sleep apnea can lead to a morning headache, excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.
A sleep study is typically conducted to determine the severity of the disorder. The results of this study along with other medical findings will play a role in determining the recommended therapy. The most common form of therapy is a CPAP machine that is worn when sleeping. This device provides a steady stream of pressurized air into the respiratory system through a mask.
In situations of mild to moderate sleep apnea, a dental appliance may be deemed the appropriate treatment. Worn in a similar fashion to a mouthguard or an orthodontic retainer, it is designed to help keep the tongue and soft tissues in the back of the throat from collapsing, thereby enabling the airway to stay open during sleep. An oral appliance is easy to wear, easy to care for, comfortable, and portable. Oral appliances are individually fabricated, and customized for both maximum effectiveness and comfort.
Chronic jaw clenching and grinding one’s teeth is called bruxism. While it can happen any time of day, it often occurs at night causing an individual to wake up with any number of symptoms including jaw pain, headaches, and sore teeth that may feel loose. Although, stress and anxiety are the most common causes of bruxism there may be other contributing factors such as a sleep disorder, an abnormal bite, as well as teeth that are missing or poorly aligned.
To alleviate the symptoms of bruxism, wearing a night guard while sleeping is frequently recommended. This appliance is designed to fit over the teeth and to keep the jaws slightly apart. Wearing a night guard prevents a number of damaging events including muscle strain, excessive pressure on the jaw joint (the TMJ), and such dental damage as chipped or cracked teeth resulting from the teeth grinding against each other.
In addition to preventing damage to the soft and hard tissues surrounding the orofacial cavity, a custom night guard fabricated at the dental office can help curb a bruxism habit and give the wearer a better night’s sleep.