The Silent Killer
Today’s post is part II – following up on sleep apnea in adults. Why is a dental hygienist writing about a “medical problem”? As a dental hygienist, I see many signs in the mouth/throat that alert me to a potential issue with sleep apnea- even before my patients are aware (or maybe it’s really because they don’t want to acknowledge) they may have a problem. Let me give you a little background on sleep apnea and what signs I look for while examining my patients. There’s lots of information on the internet so you can explore this further. If you have any questions I am happy to answer any emails.
There are two kinds of sleep apnea- central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea results from the brain “forgetting” to tell your body to breath at night. While a rare condition, it definitely needs attention and is beyond the scope of this article. Today we’ll focus on obstructive sleep apnea- when your throat closes off while you sleep.
Obstructive sleep apnea is truly a silent killer. As I noted in last week’s post on children with sleep apnea, upwards of 10% of children have it! If left untreated, these children grow up into adults with sleep apnea and many medical issues. This figure increases with adulthood to 25% of adults having sleep apnea, and for those over 65 years of age the number increases even further to between 30 to 60%! 22 million people in the US have it and don’t know it!
Here’s a sample of some more statistics to start your day. If you have sleep apnea you are:
2.5 times more likely to have high blood pressure
3.9 times more likely to have congestive heart failure
2 times more likely to die in your sleep
2 times more likely to die of a heart attack or stroke
40% greater chance of suffering from depression
How’s that for sobering? My post entitled When You Let Plaque Attack discusses heart attacks, strokes and the connection to gum disease and tooth decay. The book I quoted from: Beat The Heart Attack Gene by Amy Doneen and Brad Bales also discusses the connection between sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease in depth. I encourage you to read it and then find physician that takes this well rounded approach to health. Prevention is key. If your cardiologist has not sent you for a sleep study, find out why not. Sleep apnea also can contribute to diabetes, weight gain, cancer, and traffic accidents to mention but a few health considerations.
My goal is to live a long HEALTHY life, and I snore. Yikes! I decided to get myself healthy and learn as much as possible about this stealthy killer, and help my patients be healthy too. I started investigating and learning about sleep apnea. You may think you sleep well, but you may not be! Take the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, the Stop Bang Questionnaire or the Berlin Questionnaire to start screening and hand those results to your doctor. If your sleep partner says you snore- again, for their sake and yours, go get screened! Snoring may not necessarily be a sign of sleep apnea, but the only way to tell is to have a sleep study. The dreaded sleep study- no one really wants to get one. The thought of sleeping in a lab, hooked up to monitors turns may folks off. There are now home sleep studies that can at least screen you. Ask your doctor if you might qualify for that.
Some lesser known signs of sleep apnea:
Repeated urination at night. Do you have to “go” more than once a night?
Morning Headaches. Do you wake up with a headache or a migraine?
Night sweats. Sleep apnea is a common cause of night sweats in men and non-menopausal women.
Erectile dysfunction. Is there anything sleep apnea does not affect? No, not really! It touches all aspects of your health!
Facial pain, clenching and grinding Your bite guard only protects your teeth, it does nothing to stop clenching and grinding, and sleep apnea. It may well be making matters worse if it keeps you from opening your airway properly.
There are many other signs and symptoms to be aware of but these caught my eye as some signs that most people don’t associate with sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea clinical signs I look for when evaluating patients:
- Neck circumference measurement- 16 inches for women (40.64 centimeters) and 17 inches in men (43.18 centimeters)
- Scalloped tongue
- Enlarged tongue
- Grinding or clenching teeth
- Abfractions (notching on the sides of teeth)
- High sensitivity to cold
- Tired jaw
- Dry mouth or sore throat on waking
- Bony growths on the lower jaw
- Big or long uvula (the thing that hangs down your throat)
- Enlarged tonsils
- Acid reflux/acid erosion
- Friedman score
I wish you all sweet dreams and a great night’s sleep every night.
Til next week,