“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together,” said the Elizabethan playwright Thomas Dekker and research has shown that women need more sleep than men, and are twice as likely as men to have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Snoring can be directly related to elevated blood pressure, stroke, and can cause serious health consequences to the unfortunate person who must listen to it night after night. Snoring and sleep disorders can also be caused by Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorders if the TMJ is not functioning sufficiently. Many are unaware that snoring could be a sign of a more serious problem: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
OSA affects about 25 million adults and is a potentially life-threatening condition. Unfortunately, 80% of these people are undiagnosed and unaware that their heart, overall health, and longevity may be in danger. When an apnea episode occurs it reduces or stops airflow, thus lowering oxygen levels and increasing carbon dioxide in the blood, affecting heart rate and the nervous system. The brain reacts by briefly disturbing sleep in order for the individual to resume breathing, resulting in choking or gasping. This continued sleep disturbance, if left untreated, can lead to health problems including high blood pressure, an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
Because sleep apnea is considered to be a condition predominantly affecting overweight or obese men, women are less likely to be diagnosed. This assumption along with subtler symptoms of sleep apnea, and a normal resting blood pressure is why women have a greater risk of developing heart disease. Women with OSA or insomnia are often misdiagnosed, and female patients are treated for other disorders.
The typical symptom of a heart attack is chest pain radiating down one arm. However, women are also more likely than men to experience atypical symptoms of a heart attack, including lower jaw pain. The possible signs of a heart attack for women are:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- pain in the jaw, neck, or back
- stomach pain
Jaw pain associated with shortness of breath is cause for great concern and one should seek immediate medical attention. Jaw pain alone and TMJ disorders include headache, ear or facial pain could be the result of the jaw joints, the bite or muscle spasms in the vicinity of the jaw joint or referred to the area from the cervical spine or elsewhere. Even swallowing difficulty and snoring can be related to TMJ disorders, as can fullness and ringing in the ears.
Snoring and sleep apnea prevent restful sleep and there are solutions that often do not require invasive procedures of any kind. An effective solution is Oral Appliance Therapy; snorers can be fitted with special oral appliances for snoring that look like orthodontic retainers or sports mouth guards. They are usually made from clear acrylics and all have adjustment features. These snoring appliances dilate or open the airways by repositioning the soft palate and stabilizing the lower jaw and tongue with respect to the soft palate, uvula, and the back of throat, thus increasing the volume of the airway. However, the TMJ must be functioning sufficiently well for a person to be successful.
When one feels pain, fatigue, and discomfort they are signs that should not be ignored because they are alerting you that something is wrong. There is an immediate need for health professionals to start screening for Obstructive Sleep Apnea and have their patients take a sleep test, which can be done in a hospital laboratory or at home in the patient’s bed with an overnight home monitor. One should discuss the possible remedies with a health care professional.
Co-authored with Lily Mai