What is sleep apnoea?
Sleep apnoea is a condition where the airway becomes intermittently blocked during sleep and affects breathing. It is usually caused by the tongue falling back against the soft palate. Its very common, affecting about 1/20 people. It is more common in middle age and in overweight people although it can affect young thin people also.
How would I know if I had Sleep Apnoea?
The most frequent signs of sleep apnoea are snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness and a feeling of not being refreshed when waking in the morning. Disturbed sleep, frequent awakening during the night, morning headache and bedwetting are also common complaints. There are some standard questions related to sleepiness that can give you an idea if you might have apnoea which your sleeps specialist or dentist can go through with you.
If I snore do I definitely have apnoea?
Not necessarily but its worth having yourself assessed if the snoring is persistent, loud and frequent and if you have any of the other signs above, especially tiredness.
What are the health implications of sleep apnoea?
Sleep apnoea affects a very large range of other health conditions and is very bad for your general health if untreated. Common conditions it affects include heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and depression. If you are a frequent snorer and you drive for a living you should definitely consider seeing a doctor as the risk of being killed in a car accident is 7.5 times higher in apneic patients.
What ways can it be treated?
This depends on the severity and the cause. Sometimes its as simple as improving your sleep patterns and losing weight. In more severe cases, most doctors will recommend a CPAP machine. This is a device that attaches over the face or nose and blows air into the airway during sleep, to keep it open. Increasingly, mild to moderate cases are managed by dentists in conjunction with sleep physicians.
How can the dentist help?
Dentists can make you a set of oral appliances that cause your lower jaw to be protruded during sleep. These look roughly like a gum shield worn on the top and bottom teeth. They are very effective in reducing snoring and can dramatically reduce the number of sleep apnoea events.
Can I just go straight to the dentist for treatment if I snore?
No. Sleep apnoea is a medical condition and while a dentist may very well be involved, your treatment must be co-ordinated by a consultant physician. While you may think you just snore, you might have sleep apnoea and the condition might be more serious than you think, with implications for your general health. Its very important that the condition is properly diagnosed by a doctor and managed appropriately. A dentist just doesn’t have the equipment or training to do this. If you are concerned about it and would like to discuss it with your dentist is there is nothing wrong with asking them to refer you to a sleep physician. A list of sleep physicians in Ireland can be found on the Irish Sleep Society website by clicking here.
Can I go to any dentist for sleep apnoea or snoring appliances?
Only if they have had special training in treating snoring or sleep apnoea. Dentists are not insured to do it unless they have had some accredited training in this field. Dr Padraig McAuliffe studied sleep apnoea management as a part of his specialist training program and spent time in Canada studying it further in one of the best sleep research centres in the world.