The brain is responsible for virtually every aspect of how humans function. It stores memories, regulates emotions, controls bodily functions, and so much more. Certainly, protecting it from damage is worth every effort! Unfortunately, millions of people suffer from a disorder that can negatively impact brain health. How does sleep apnea affect the brain, and how can you help your patients cope with this condition? Read on below to find out.
Sleep Apnea and Early Cognitive Decline
Mild cognitive decline is common as people age. Its symptoms can include things like forgetfulness of recent events and the need to constantly write reminders about tasks that need to be completed. Unfortunately, this problem can occur up to 10 years earlier in life for those with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) than for those who breathe normally during sleep.
The good news is that treatment can help. Researchers have found that people who get treated for OSA are diagnosed with thinking and memory problems around 10 years later than those who do not receive treatment. (The study specifically looked at CPAP treatment. However, it stands to reason that oral appliance therapy from a dentist could offer similar benefits.)
Sleep Apnea and Brain Structures
Research has found that sleep apnea can have a big effect on various parts of the brain. Here are a few examples:
- Individuals with sleep apnea may have mammillary bodies that are up to 20% smaller than those of people who enjoy healthy sleep. Mammillary bodies are important for memory storage.
- Sleep apnea is linked with a decline in both gray matter and white matter. Gray matter and white matter are important for processing information and communicating signals across the brain.
- Sleep apnea can lead to a decline in GABA. Higher levels of GABA may help to reduce the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and insomnia.
Again, there is good news. After receiving treatment, many sleep apnea patients experienced significant increases in gray and white matter. The brain is resilient, so it is reasonable to think that increasing the quality of a person’s sleep could help the entirety of their brain to function as well as possible.
Your Role in Supporting Patients’ Brain Health
Many sleep apnea patients find it difficult to tolerate CPAP therapy, even though it has been shown to promote high-quality rest and improved brain function. As a dentist, you are in a position to help such individuals. An oral appliance may be the comfortable, convenient CPAP alternative that they are looking for. By choosing to offer this treatment, you could help people in your community to enjoy the best quality of life possible.
Would You Like More Information?
Dr. Kent Smith is widely heralded as a leader in the field of sleep dentistry, and he proudly shares his expertise with his fellow dentists. If you are interested in incorporating oral appliance therapy into your practice, the team at 21st Century Sleep Seminars is ready to assist you. To learn about the educational opportunities we offer, contact us at 972-255-3712.