Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a health condition in which patients repeatedly stop breathing for very short periods of time while they are asleep, depriving the body of oxygen and causing a cascade of potentially serious consequences. Awareness of the symptoms of sleep apnea can help you figure out if you might have the condition, and if you are experiencing these symptoms, you should consult with a specialist for treatment as soon as possible. Your quality of life and your overall health can improve dramatically when your sleep apnea is under control.

The Biology Of Sleep Apnea

There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive and central. The obstructive kind occurs when excess tissue at the rear of the throat goes slack during sleep and covers up the opening to the airway. The central type occurs because of interference in the path of nerve signals directing the body to breathe during sleep. In both of these categories, the patient stops breathing numerous times each night, and the body is deprived of oxygen, which has a variety of effects on the body. Additionally, the patient’s sleep is disrupted because the body rouses itself in order to start breathing again. It is important to know which type of sleep apnea is present because that will determine the treatment approach.

Obstructive sleep apnea is associated with a variety of symptoms, including loud, disruptive snoring, daytime drowsiness, and frequent headaches or sore throats upon waking. Your sleeping partner may also notice gasping or the cessation of breathing during the brief apneic episodes. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should schedule a sleep study to confirm the diagnosis. After you have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, consult with a provider to learn about your treatment options.

Sleep Apnea: Serious Consequences

In addition to affecting the alertness and mood of patient’s, sleep apnea has serious effects on the body. The heart must pump harder to overcome the higher levels of carbon dioxide in the blood and spread the limited amount of oxygen to the tissues that need it. As such, sleep apnea appears to be related to a number of conditions, including high blood pressure and stroke, and patients with this condition may even face a greater risk of sudden death.

Effective Sleep Apnea Treatment

Fortunately, obstructive sleep apnea can be treated, giving patients the opportunity to mitigate the associated health risks and feel more alert throughout the day. Dentists are well-suited to treat this condition due to their extensive knowledge of the facial structures that contribute to the apneic environment.

Your dentist will evaluate your case and determine what treatment is likely to be effective in your case. Don’t be concerned that you’ll have to wear a cumbersome, uncomfortable CPAP mask, either. While those masks are highly effective when used properly, many patients can’t tolerate them so they abandon their treatment. Your dentist may recommend a more comfortable oral appliance that holds your tongue or jaw in a forward position but is less disruptive to your sleep. In some cases, surgery can provide a permanent fix to the causes of sleep apnea, as well.

Common Sleep Apnea Questions:

If I snore, do I have sleep apnea?

While snoring can be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, it does not automatically indicate the presence of the condition. If you snore loudly, you should undergo a sleep study to learn whether or not you have obstructive sleep apnea, especially if you have other associated symptoms like daytime drowsiness. Call our office to learn about how to complete a sleep study, and schedule an evaluation with us if that study does indeed find that you have sleep apnea.

What causes sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissues near the back of the throat collapse and block the airway opening during sleep. As a result, the body is not able to take in enough oxygen and the body attempts to compensate for that by adjusting other physiological functions. That process results in the patient repeatedly waking to start breathing again.

There are certain risk factors associated with sleep apnea, including obesity, age (older adults are more susceptible) and gender (men have a higher risk). Lifestyle factors like smoking and alcohol consumption may also contribute to sleep apnea, as can other factors like family history or having a congenitally narrow airway.

How do you confirm the effectiveness of the oral appliance?

Our provider will recommend the oral appliance design that is most likely to resolve the conditions contributing to sleep apnea in your case. We monitor the frequency and severity of your ongoing symptoms to evaluate the appliance’s effectiveness initially, but we also will recommend that you have a follow-up sleep study to see if the sleep apnea is still present physiologically.

How long will it take to adapt to the oral appliance? Will it hurt my teeth?

Most patients adjust to their oral appliances in a week or less. If you are experiencing discomfort beyond this period of time, we encourage you to contact our office and schedule an appointment to see if your device needs additional adjustments.