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Sleep Apnea

Not many people are aware that Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a disorder that can be fatal; most people just think it’s an annoying snoring condition.   What makes sleep apnea such a serious disorder is that you literally have lapses in your breathing whilst asleep; the word apnea is derived from Greek etymology meaning “without breath”.  In severe cases of sleep apnea one may stop breathing possibly hundreds of times throughout the course of the night.  While snoring may be difficult to deal with for the partner of a sufferer of sleep apnea the potential health effects it has on the actual sufferer is something that must be taken with the utmost of seriousness.

The disrupted breathing patterns caused by sleep apnea create an imbalance between the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the bloodstream; the normal intake of oxygen is lowered while the bodies output of carbon dioxide is not as high as it should be.  The subconscious part of your brain will sense this imbalance and then send a message indicating your body to wake back up and being proper breathing.   Somebody suffering with sleep apnea is actually partially awake while they are struggling to breathe, this is when the loud snoring associated with sleep apnea occurs, and in addition the sufferer will have a choking sensation as they gasp for breath.   Unfortunately many people go undiagnosed because they do not fully wake during their episodes of apnea.

In addition to Obstructive Sleep Apnea there is also Central Sleep Apnea; central sleep apnea occurs when the brain does not send the proper signals to the breathing muscles.  Obstructive sleep apnea takes place when air cannot properly flow through the airway; typically due to muscles (mainly the tongue) collapsing in on the airway while breathing is trying to take place.  Of the two types of sleep apnea obstructive is far more prevalent and can in the many cases be successfully treated by a dentist who is trained and knowledgeable in the field of Dental Sleep Medicine.

The most common signs and symptoms that may indicate you have obstructive sleep apnea are early morning headaches, feeling drowsy throughout the day, and insomnia.  The good news for those suffering with sleep apnea is a properly trained dentist will have the knowledge and scientific technology to properly treat and manage this serious medical condition.

Reason for treating sleep apnea

If you suspect that you or someone you know may have this condition than it is very important to seek proper medical attention as soon as possible.  The sufferer can potentially stop breathing up to 30 or more times per hour while trying to sleep, this can quickly turn into a life threatening situation.  The obstruction of the airway takes place when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses on the airway.  At this point the tongue will fall towards the back of the throat therefore preventing the proper airflow needed for normal healthy sleep and breathing. 

This condition becomes more severe when the chest region, diaphragm, and abdomen begin fighting for air; in an attempt to secure the vital oxygen levels the body needs they only further tighten the blockage in the airway.  At this point the brain will arouse the body from deep sleep to tense the tongue and remove the blockage in the airway. 

Some of the most detrimental side effects to your health from sleep apnea are heart-related conditions.  Seeing that sleep apnea spikes the levels of carbon dioxide while simultaneously decreasing oxygen levels the heart must put significantly more effort into pumping blood.  The scary and unfortunate truth is that sleep apnea patients can technically “die” many times throughout the course of a night.  Many heart conditions have been linked to sleep apnea so therefore if you feel you or someone you know may suffer from it than waste no time getting treatment.

What does sleep apnea treatment involve?

The first step in the treatment process is for the dentist to conduct tests to diagnose and identify what will be the best suitable treatment option.   There are various treatment options that can be offered depending upon the precise diagnosis and the state of the patients’ current health.  The dentist may advise to quit certain habits that worsen the condition such as smoking, drinking alcohol and use of certain sedative medicines.

For many years the default treatment option most sleep practitioners would prescribe was a CPAP face mask, however nowadays there are less intrusive options available.  Many people are intolerant to wearing a CPAP and therefore opt to seek treatment through dental devices that fall under Oral Appliance Therapy.   These devices are highly effective at stopping the blockage in the airway that causes apnea to occur; they are also very easy to wear and help patients avoid any surgical procedures. 

For patients who are seeking a more permanent solution that does not require the necessity to wear a face mask or insert a dental device there are options for oral surgery.  The surgery entails pulling the bone holding the tongue slightly forward.  This surgery does have quite impressive success rates and is easy for an oral surgeon to perform.  For any treatment method the first step is for the dentist to make a formal diagnosis of the case and severity of the apnea to recommend which treatment would be the best course of action to take.