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Sleep Apnea During Pregnancy: How Dentists Can Help

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Pregnancy can be exhausting at the best of times, and not getting enough sleep will only make things worse. Many pregnant women find it understandably difficult to sleep, especially during the later stages of pregnancy. However, pregnancy can also leave you vulnerable to a more serious sleep disorder, known as sleep apnea.

What Is Sleep Apnea? 

Sleep apnea occurs when you stop breathing for extended periods while you are asleep.  These pauses in your breathing can last for a few seconds, or as long as several minutes in extreme cases. Once your body starts breathing again, you may gasp, cough, or choke before your normal breathing pattern resumes. Many sleep apnea sufferers also snore loudly.

This snoring can be the most tell-tale symptom of sleep apnea, so if you share your bed at night, make sure to ask your partner to tell you if you snore while you sleep. The sleep disruption and low blood oxygen levels caused by sleep apnea can also make you feel very tired and listless during the day, even if you slept for an appropriate amount of time.

Why Does Pregnancy Make You Vulnerable To Sleep Apnea?

Pregnant women are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea for a number of reasons. 

As your uterus expands to make room for your growing baby, it can start to compress your other organs, especially your lungs. During the later stages of pregnancy, your lung capacity may drop significantly, making sleep apnea more likely to occur.

Pregnancy also causes profound changes in your body's hormones and massively boosts the amount of estrogen your body produces. High estrogen levels can cause the lining of your sinuses and throat to swell, narrowing your airways and increasing your sleep apnea risk. 

Weight gain can also be a sleep apnea risk factor. Your growing child will obviously increase your body's overall weight, but you may also accumulate a little more body fat, especially if you have strong cravings, or find it difficult to exercise and stay active.

How Is Sleep Apnea Treated During Pregnancy?

If you are suffering from any symptoms of sleep apnea, you should visit your doctor for a diagnosis. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and may conduct a sleep study. During these studies, you are monitored using sensors and/or cameras while you sleep, so your doctor can check for any interruptions in your breathing.

If you are suffering from sleep apnea, you may be offered CPAP therapy. A CPAP machine is a specialized air pump, connected to an air mask that you wear while you sleep. These machines pressurize the air you breathe, gently pushing it into your lungs to keep them inflated and prevent breathing interruptions.

CPAP machines are effective, but not everybody can use them. They can also be quite uncomfortable at first, and many people never get used to wearing them. As an alternative to CPAP therapy, you can visit a dentist that specializes in treating sleep apnea.

How Can Dentists Treat Your Sleep Apnea?

Dentists can help treat your sleep apnea by fitting you with an oral appliance. In most cases, this appliance is a device that fits over your teeth and looks very similar to a mouthguard worn while playing sports.

This appliance is called a mandibular advancement device, or MAD. It works by repositioning your lower jaw, which changes the shape of your mouth and throat. This repositioning helps to keep your airways open while you sleep, preventing sleep apnea.

In some cases, you may also be offered a tongue retainer. This small device prevents your tongue from falling back into your throat and blocking your airway. These devices can be especially useful if you are heavily pregnant and can only sleep comfortably on your back. 

If CPAP therapy is not suitable for your needs, an oral appliance can be a highly effective and less disruptive alternative. Make sure to have your appliance fitted by a dentist — over-the-counter models are generally much less effective. You can also use oral appliances in conjunction with CPAP machines.

To find out more, contact a company like Comprehensive Dental Care