In this podcast, Dr. Nammy Patel talks about the flaws in common sleep apnea treatment. Then, she explains the link between oral health and sleep apnea. Finally, she outlines more effective holistic treatment options.
John Maher: Hi, I am John Maher. I’m here today with Dr. Nammy Patel, founder of Green Dentistry in San Francisco, California, helping patients recognize the vital connection between dental health and whole body health. And author of the best-selling books, Age With Style: Your Guide To A Youthful Smile & Healthy Living and Total Wellness: Understanding The Link Between Your Teeth And Your Health.
Today, our topic is sleep apnea treatments and how it can improve the quality of your life. Welcome, Dr. Nammy.
Dr. Nammy Patel: Hi, John. Thank you for having me.
What Is Sleep Apnea? How Does It Affect Your Health?
John: Sure. So Dr. Nammy, what is sleep apnea and how can it impact a person’s overall health and quality of life if it’s left untreated?
Dr. Nammy: So sleep apnea actually means that when you’re sleeping at night, you should be relaxed and comfortable, what happens is the tongue falls back and it obstructs your airway, so you stop breathing. And that can happen for three seconds, five seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds sometimes and then you wake up because it’s like, “Oh my gosh, I just stopped breathing.” So your body’s going to wake you up so you can start breathing again.
And that’s what sleep apnea is, is that you stop breathing. And the concern with sleep apnea is that if you are not able to rest, what it does, it has harmful effects on your body because our body is super active all day long, from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep, our brain is active, our cellular functions are active.
So that’s great, but we also need to have cleanup time, we need to have rest so that our body can fight all the scavengers, cancerous cells and kill them off and also make new good cells, so that way we can function properly. Our brain can relax and process all the information that we’ve received, make new memories, build new motor skills and absorb and grow and also take away all the toxins. Because as we are awake every day, we’re eating all this food, our body is creating waste from the food we eat, but also from a cellular metabolism, which is all your cells working properly to keep you alive, there’s all these toxins and those toxins get removed during sleep. So if somebody has sleep apnea, the number one thing we first find is that this person has high blood pressure. When you stop breathing, your body goes haywire, it raises the blood pressure to vasoconstrict to make sure that there is oxygen going to your vital organs.
So that’s the first thing it’s going to do. Second thing that’s going to happen is your heart’s going to pump a lot faster because it wants to generate and make sure that everything is oxygenated properly. So you’re going to most likely increase your risk for heart attacks and stroke. Those are the first two common signs that we see with sleep apnea patients. The third that comes is diabetes because if you’re sustaining high blood pressure and you’re using so much energy because your body is your fight or flight response because you can’t breathe, then it’s going to use up a lot of sugar. And so it actually desensitizes your receptors and also your cells that make insulin. So it causes diabetes.
A lot of other things that we see with sleep apnea is people are with sleep apnea are grumpy, they are no fun to be around, they cannot focus, majority of the car accidents, believe it or not, are caused by patients who don’t sleep well, they’re irritable, ADHD is super common. They actually end up with a lot of depression, end up misusing opioids and narcotics and drugs and just a lot of other things.
So when people think of sleep apnea, they don’t really realize that all the detrimental effects that it has. I mean, I definitely don’t want to have to feel depressed or feel grumpy or I feel like I can’t focus or be ineffective in anything and everything that I do. And the quality of life sucks with sleep apnea is really what it is, is because imagine having to do what you do every day or at least for me, I’m a dentist, I see patients all day long. If I did not sleep well, I couldn’t even be of service to my patients, I’d be useless.
Probably would get into a car accident just even going to the office because I’d be so sleepy and tired. And then once I did get to the office, I wouldn’t be efficient, I would have more accidents, things would be problematic all the time. And it’s not a good way to live, it’s highly toxic really.
Common Treatments for Sleep Apnea
John: Yeah. And what are some of the most common treatment options then for sleep apnea and how do they work to address those underlying causes of that condition?
Dr. Nammy: So there’s two underlying causes for sleep apnea. Number one is it could be a central nervous system. If the central nervous system has a problem, there’s a pill you have to take, so that will resolve it. Now, secondly, if it’s a tongue problem, that means a tongue falls back when you’re sleeping, we have to address that.
And if you go to the medical doctor… Actually, the majority of the time the medical doctors aren’t even testing for this, even though it’s a life-threatening situation. And I’m really concerned about that, so I ask anybody who’s listening to this, who may be feeling tired, foggy, feel like they have ADHD, feel irritable, please go to your medical provider and get a sleep study to discover if you do have sleep apnea or not.
Because going back to what is sleep apnea and the common treatments. So the tongue falls back, there’s several ways we can fix that. Number one, the medical doctors are going to give you a CPAP machine, which is going to force air through the nose, down through the back of your throat and down into your lungs. That’s great and dandy, but what we’re now finding is that the majority of the time people with sleep apnea can’t breathe through their nose. So what’s the point of having a CPAP machine if you can’t even breathe through your nose?
So because we’ve really looked into this and especially as dentists, it is our responsibility to look at the neck and up and your nasal cavity is part of that and it’s directly related to your dental arches. We can actually expand your dental arches to open up your sinuses, so you can breathe really well. Also with your tongue, when your tongue is not strong enough because that’s why it’s falling back, we actually can do myofunctional therapy in order to strengthen that tongue so that the tongue actually gets suctioned up at the roof of the pate and it doesn’t fall back.
Tongue Exercises to Help With Sleep Apnea
John: Are those just sort of tongue exercises that anybody could do at home or is that some specialized thing?
Dr. Nammy: It is a specialized thing and tongue exercises are ones that can be done at home, but there’s a series of them that need to be done in a specific way depending on how strong your tongue is. So what we first do is actually test the strength of your tongue and see what can you do, what you cannot do. Then we go through a series of exercises for about 12 weeks or so and then retest the tongue to see how strong it is. That’s how we take care of the tongue.
Now with the dental arches and the sinus cavities, if we need to expand them, we actually activate stem cells at the roof of the palate in order to expand and make more bone. And that’s really wonderful because a lot of times patients who had a thumb sucking habit or had used pacifiers, all of those patients will have a high-vaulted palate is what we call it, and that high-vaulted palate is really important for that tongue suction. So we can actually widen that palate so that we can get some tongue suction up there.
Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea
John: How can patients determine if they have sleep apnea and what steps should they take to get diagnosed and begin treatment?
Dr. Nammy: Well, the first one is see how you wake up. Do you wake up tired? Do you have to wake up in the middle of the night to pee? The majority of the patients who have sleep apnea end up having to wake up in the middle of the night to pee. They actually think, “Oh my gosh, it’s because I’m drinking so much water, that’s why I have to wake up.” The answer is actually, that’s not the reason you’re waking up.
The majority of the patients that are waking up in the middle of the night to pee is because if they can’t get good amount of air through the nose, they are going to start mouth breathing. And when they’re mouth breathing, they’re going to put respiratory efforts or your lungs are going to expand like that. As they expand, it presses on the kidneys and that’s why you end up having to pee.
The Importance of a Sleep Study
John: And then beyond that, once you suspect that you have sleep apnea, you said you should go and see your doctor and ask to get a sleep study done?
Dr. Nammy: Yes, you absolutely should get a sleep study done. If your provider refuses to get a sleep study, which is very common by the way now, majority of the providers don’t do a sleep study. And you would just have to be very clear that you are seeking a sleep study because it’s a life-threatening situation. And if you say something along those lines, they have to allow you to be able to do a sleep study.
Benefits of Treatment
John: So what’s the result of sleep apnea treatments then? What are some of the benefits of the treatments and how can you see these improvements in areas like sleep quality and energy levels and overall wellbeing?
Dr. Nammy: When somebody’s able to sleep, they are actually fully present, the capability of their capacity increases so much, like a hundred fold. I see this day in and day out, I have patients that come in who actually could never run. I mean, in fact, I had one tell me the other day, she’s like, “Oh my God, my throat always used to be dry, I could never run.”
Because we did the treatment on her and we did her final workup there and we compared where she started and where she ended up. And what we found is that she was like, “Oh my God, I can actually now run, I can actually go out with my friends and do the things I’ve been wanting to do for such a long time. I can actually sleep through the night, I’m way happier. I don’t wake up with dread, I have energy throughout my entire day and I feel happy.” And that’s really wonderful to be able to hear from patients.
Advice for People Who Think They Have Sleep Apnea
John: And finally, what advice would you give to someone who suspects that they might have sleep apnea, but maybe they’re hesitant to seek out treatment because of fear of discomfort or the inconvenience or the cost?
Dr. Nammy: Well, I understand how you may be feeling if you’re scared, that is very normal. And the first thing to realize is that there’s nothing wrong with you. If you have sleep apnea, there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s easily fixable, there’s solutions for that. And so I would invite you to be open and discover rather than having it be a fearful thing, just make it a discovery process. Just discover what’s going on with yourself and figure out how can you live a longer, healthier life.
Because if you are fearful and you don’t know and you don’t care or you avoid it completely, it’s going to be far worse. The consequences of sleep apnea are cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and death. I wouldn’t want that for you and I wouldn’t want that even for anyone really. I wouldn’t ever want them to ever have to go through cancer or to ever have to go through Alzheimer’s or dementia or just any of these opioid addiction or anything like that. I wouldn’t want anybody to go through that or depression.
Addressing Sleep Apnea Improves Your Whole Body Health
John: Absolutely. Yeah. Well, that’s really great information, Dr. Nammy, and hopefully anybody listening to this will seek out treatment if they think that they have sleep apnea because of all those issues, like you said, that it can cause.
Dr. Nammy: Absolutely. And it’s just the education around it. We’ve been a sick society and we’ve just focused on, “High blood pressure, let me give you a pill.” But let’s prevent the high blood pressure, if you correct the apnea to begin with, you won’t even get the blood pressure. So let’s get to the root so that way we can address the root and that way you don’t have to worry about cancer, diabetes, hypertension, anything like that.
John: Right. All right. That’s great information, Dr. Nammy. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Dr. Nammy: Absolutely.
John: And for more information about Green Dentistry, visit the website at sfgreendentist.com or call 415-433-0119.