Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea and sleeping disorders affect both the individual and the other people in their home. When you don’t sleep well, neither do your loved ones. But in the case of sleep-disordered breathing, there’s more to consider than just an inconvenience. Medical conditions like sleep apnea can be detrimental to your health. It’s not an exaggeration to even say that sleeping disorders are potentially life-threatening.


Maybe you’re tossing the idea around of seeing someone about a sleep study. Or perhaps your spouse has asked you repeatedly to talk to your doctor about your snoring habit. If you’re still not convinced that there’s a problem, here are some of the most significant red flags you need to watch for:


A Large Neck Circumference

One of the easiest sleep apnea warning signs to look for is a large neck circumference. For men, that’s a neck with a circumference over 17 inches. For women, it’s a neck circumference over 16 inches. This is something you can easily check for in the privacy of your own home. You can use either a soft seamstress tape measure or if that isn’t handy, a piece of ribbon or yarn.


People with larger, thicker necks are statistically more at risk for some type of obstructive blockage in their airflow. When they sleep, there’s a higher chance of reduced oxygen intake.


Flat, Worn, or Chipped Teeth

Bruxism (chronic teeth grinding and clenching) is a common side effect of sleep apnea. When someone has obstructive sleep apnea, the air is physically blocked from reaching their upper airway and lungs. A natural reaction is for our jaws to clench tightly together, gritting the teeth and flexing the TMJ joint. You probably don’t even realize that you’re doing it. The clenching itself is simply a natural response to our body and brain’s oxygen deprivation.


The cumulative effect of bruxism is that eventually, our tooth enamel will wear out. Even though it’s the hardest structure in the human body, enamel on enamel wear isn’t something to be reckoned with. Eventually, there will be chipping and wear, leaving your teeth looking flatter, shorter, or with sharp edges along the biting surfaces.


Broken Dental Restorations


As you might guess, all of that bruxing and grinding doesn’t just wear down our teeth. It can also destroy your dental work. Even durable porcelain crowns, white fillings, or cosmetic veneers are no match for the constant sleep apnea-induced clenching.


Chances are that you’ll probably notice broken dental restorations long before you see the wear facets on your other teeth. Or it might happen at the same time. But when a restoration like a filling or crown gives out, it’s likely to take some of the surrounding tooth structure with it. A broken filling tends to crack the adjacent enamel when pressure is applied to that tooth. Chewing (or eating) on that side of your mouth can hit these weaker spaces and cause serious structural damage. As you might guess, the continual clenching caused by sleep apnea can wreak havoc on the overall function of your smile.



A Large Tongue, Tonsils

Enlarged soft oral tissues are key factors in obstructive sleep apnea. When you sleep, they tend to collapse onto one another and act as a natural seal over your airway.


The biggest offenders are an enlarged tongue, large tonsils, and a saggy or drooping soft palate (near the back of your mouth.) As these tissues come into contact with one another, they act as a physical barrier in the back of your throat. This seal is most noticeable when the tongue slips backward and pushes against the soft palate and tonsils.


Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, this unique risk factor is what makes it practical to treat sleep apnea with a dentist’s assistance. Instead of physically pushing oxygen into your airway with a CPAP machine, an oral sleep appliance may be just as helpful. Oral appliances naturally reposition your soft tissues to prevent airway blockage. But they’re not delivered by physicians or pulmonologists, so most people are not as familiar with the treatment. You’ll need to see our Raleigh sleep dentistry team if you’re interested in having an oral appliance to replace your CPAP.



Frequent Headaches and Jaw Pain


One of the biggest symptoms of bruxism (teeth grinding) caused by sleep apnea is chronic headaches, migraines, and TMJ pain. As the jaws clench together, the muscle tension involved can radiate well up into your face, forehead, scalp, TMJ, neck, shoulders, and even your back.


More than likely, the most noticeable symptoms will be frequent headaches or jaw (TMJ) pain. You might even begin to develop more aggressive signs of a TMJ disorder, such as popping and clicking due to joint wear.


Oxygen deprivation can also contribute to headaches and migraines. So even if you’re convinced that you’re not clenching your teeth in your sleep, obstructive sleep apnea can still put a major kink in getting through the morning comfortably.


Pay particular attention to your headache frequency and duration. Do they occur most often when you wake up in the mornings? Are they practically non-existent as the day progresses? If so, you could have sleep apnea.



Fatigue, Weight Gain, Depression


It’s natural for our metabolism to change over time. But if your lifestyle hasn’t changed and you’re seeing major challenges in fatigue, mood changes, or weight gain, there might be an undiagnosed medical condition at the source of the problem. Sleep apnea is known to contribute to overall depression rates and fatigue-induced automobile accidents (like falling asleep at the wheel.)


If you’re already addressing these symptoms through other lifestyle changes — like diet, exercise, or cognitive behavioral therapy — you may want to ask our Raleigh dentist to screen you for signs of sleep apnea.


Getting a better night’s rest may be the key to finally feeling like your energetic self again!


Snoring due to Sleep Apnea


Most people think that if you don’t have issues with snoring, you don’t have sleep apnea. Snoring seems to be at the top of people’s list of sleep apnea symptoms. Surprisingly, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, and not everyone with sleep apnea snores (say that 10 times fast!) The two don’t necessarily go hand in hand.


All of that being said, snoring is linked to sleep apnea in some situations. The sounds created by snoring are tied back to vibrations in the soft tissues at the back of your throat. And in the instance of obstructive forms of sleep apnea, oxygen deprivation is linked to the positioning of those soft tissues.


If your snoring is also paired with gasps, choking noises, or pauses in your breathing, then there’s probably a serious condition that needs to be addressed.


Cardiovascular Disease Also Linked to Sleep Apnea


Do you have problems with high blood pressure? Sleep apnea can be a deadly trigger for people with cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, sleeping disorders put you at a higher risk of suffering from life-threatening strokes and heart attacks. If heart disease already runs in your family or you’re exhibiting symptoms of cardiovascular problems, do not let your sleep health go overlooked.


Both cardiovascular attacks as well as irregular heartbeats are linked to sleep apnea. While a lack of quality sleep and fatigue may seem like the most serious consequences, sadly, they are not. Untreated sleeping disorders may unfortunately result in death or permanent neurological damage.


Attention Difficulties


Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) doesn’t just affect children. Problems with concentration or focusing can impact adults of all ages. But did you know that a lack of focus and ADD symptoms are a side-effect of sleep apnea? (Side note: nighttime incontinence in children is too.)


When your body — and brain — don’t get the oxygen, it needs to stay healthy, it performs at a lower level. That’s why you feel worn out, hazy, or get distracted easily. These symptoms are obvious if you try to pull an all-nighter without any coffee, but you may not pick up on them as easily if you think you’re getting enough sleep at night. With sleep apnea, you’re still sleeping, but oxygen intake is extremely reduced, and your brain doesn’t get the same type of rest it would with quality sleep.




Sleep Apnea Dentistry in Raleigh


Your oral anatomy plays a huge role in the extent of certain sleep apnea disorders. Oral sleep apnea (OSA) is one type of sleep-disordered breathing condition that can be managed with dental sleep appliances. At Raleigh Dental Arts, we offer sleep apnea mouthpieces that help to naturally widen your airway to instantly increase oxygen flow while you’re sleeping.


If you have one or more warning signs of sleep apnea, schedule an exam at Raleigh Dental Arts today. We can perform a sleep apnea screening and if necessary, help you access a home sleep study. Depending on your results and the type of sleep apnea that you have, an oral appliance may be the best CPAP alternative.


Call our Raleigh sleep dentistry team today for more information. Your health is worth it!




Tarun Agarwal

Dr. Tarun Agarwal, DDS is considered one of the top dentists in the country. He is a recognized speaker, author, and dental leader. He has been featured on CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and News 14 Carolina. Dr. Agarwal has been awarded '40 under 40' Business Leaders by the Triangle Business Journal. He is regularly invited to teach other dentists around the world and recently built a training center within the practice dedicated to sharing his expertise. Most importantly he is a loving husband and dedicated father of three wonderful children. His biggest accolade was being voted 'Best Dad in the World' by 2 of his 3 kids.