Medical and dental professionals hear myths all the time. We only use 10% of our brains, tooth decay can be avoided as long as you don’t over do it with sugar, and vitamin C will cure your cold are a few examples of misinformation spreading far and wide.
However, there is one disorder that I encounter on a regular basis here in my downtown Calgary dental clinic that is often tossed around with false information – sleep apnea. I want to to clear up a few misconceptions and to let you know that there is a noninvasive way to get sleep apnea treatment.
1. Everyone Who Snores Has Sleep Apnea
While it is true that snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, this doesn’t automatically mean that everyone who snores suffers from sleep apnea. It also doesn’t mean that you don’t have sleep apnea if you don’t snore.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is when a person has at least one pause in breathing through the night, for a time ranging from a few seconds to minutes. On the contrary, plenty of people just snore.
We want patients to note that if you are always snoring, it is still vital to be aware that it may be a symptom of a larger issue. It is best that you or your partner go see a neurologist for a sleep study to truly know if your snoring is a symptom of OSA.
2. Sleep Apnea Is Harmless
OSA can be very serious and should not be taken lightly. If left untreated, sleep apnea can increase your risk for work and motor vehicle accidents due to fatigue, as well as high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. It can also be harmful to your quality of sleep, not to mention your partner’s.
We believe treatment is always the best option to give you – and your partner, good quality sleep.
3. Sleep Apnea Is Primarily Caused by Obesity
Although obesity can be a contributing factor, it is not the only cause. A sleep apnea sufferer’s breathing is usually slowed by the narrowing of the back of their throat, thus the name Obstructive Sleep Apnea (there is also Central Sleep Apnea caused by brain signaling problems).
Several things can cause this obstruction:
- Over-relaxation of the throat and tongue muscles
- The anatomical alignment of the head and neck can cause the airway to be smaller
- Large tongue and tonsils compared with trachea size
- And yes, being overweight can cause the windpipe to shrink due to excess fat tissue
- Although obesity can be a cause, it is by no means the only one.
4. Children Don’t Get Sleep Apnea
This myth is a dangerous one because it causes the problem to go untreated. It is estimated that 1-10% of children have OSA. This can cause behavioral and academic issues at school, plus a list of more serious problems like cardiopulmonary disease.
5. The Only Treatment for OSA Is a CPAP Machine
Now that we’ve talked about myths of the causes of sleep apnea, here’s one about the treatment. A CPAP machine is a popular course of treatment. However, it is by no means the only option we recommend.
Some sleep apnea sufferers find their CPAP machines difficult to tolerate.
- the machine can be noisy and interrupt sleep
- the pumped air can be dry and cause discomfort in the nasal passages or throat
- the machine can be difficult to transport when travelling
- as with all machines, they require maintenance, which can add an extra cost to CPAP treatment
There is a long list of treatment possibilities, including using a custom-fitted oral appliance which I offer.
It is similar to a mouth guard and you only wear it while you sleep. Sleep apnea may be corrected by how the oral sleep appliance ensures your airway stays open by gently and comfortably moving the jaw forward while you sleep.
This treatment is what we call a physiologic approach treatment to OSA. Instead of “masking” the problem with a CPAP, we focus on what causes the airway blockage: often times it’s the jaw misalignment.
The word physiology is a medical term that means “how the body solves problems”. Your physiology is the way your body allows you to be alive and survive. This idea or viewpoint is at the core of how I practice dentistry at Dentalife.
Ignore all Myths – Talk to us if you suspect you have sleep apnea
Sleep apnea can be crippling and there’s a few myths out there that are keeping sufferers misinformed. False information should not hold you back from seeking treatment.
Anyone who thinks they might have sleep apnea in Calgary should contact my downtown Calgary clinic, Dentalife, for the necessary steps to getting a Home Sleep Study and proper treatment.
Curtis Westersund, D.D.S.
Dentist Calgary, Sleep Apnea Calgary