Posts for tag: sleep apnea
When you awake in the morning do you still feel exhausted? Are you irritable during the day, unable to think or focus clearly? Is your loud snoring bothering your bed partner?
If you answered affirmatively to any of these questions, you may have sleep apnea. This happens when an obstruction (usually the tongue) blocks the airway during sleep, preventing you from breathing. Your brain notices the drop in oxygen and wakes you to re-open the airway. The arousal lasts only a few seconds, and you may not even notice. But because it can happen many times a night, these waking episodes can rob you of the deep sleep your body needs.
Sleep apnea is more serious than simply waking up grumpy. Over time, it could contribute to dangerous health conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease. If you’re noticing any of these signs, it’s important then that you undergo a complete examination by a physician or dentist trained in sleep-related issues.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce sleep apnea. One of the most common is continuous airway pressure (CPAP): This method uses a small pump that pushes pressurized air through a face mask worn while the patient sleeps. The forced air keeps the airway open and reduces apnea episodes.
While it’s an effective method, it can be uncomfortable and cumbersome to use—some people can’t tolerate wearing the mask while they sleep. But if your sleep apnea symptoms are mild to moderate, your dentist may be able to provide an alternative therapy with a specially designed oral appliance.
Similar to a mouthguard or retainer, a sleep apnea appliance worn during sleep holds the lower jaw forward, which helps move the tongue away from the airway. It’s much less cumbersome (and noisy) than a CPAP machine. And your dentist can custom design and fabricate your appliance for a comfortable fit.
Not all cases of sleep apnea can benefit from such an appliance, or even from CPAP therapy. Extreme cases could require surgery to remove tissues blocking the airway. But most sleep apnea patients don’t require this invasive intervention. Getting checked by a qualified medical professional could open the door to a more convenient and effective way to a better night’s sleep.
Q: What is sleep apnea, and how common is it?
A: Obstructive sleep apnea is a type of sleep-related breathing disorder (SRBD) in which the airflow to the lungs is restricted — or even cut off completely — during sleep. This condition is usually caused by the collapse of soft tissues in the back of the throat, and is potentially deadly. Sleep disorders, including SRBD, are thought to affect tens of millions of people in the United States. They have been blamed for several catastrophic accidents, including the 2014 Metro-North train crash in New York, and the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.
Q: How can I tell if I might have sleep apnea?
A: Everyone has trouble sleeping sometimes. But if you constantly snore, wake up feeling irritable, and experience sleepiness and diminished performance during the day, it may mean you suffer from this condition. After a while, SRBDs can trigger depression, confusion, memory loss, and other personality changes. Medical professionals note that a person with SRBD tends to be obese; to show enlargement of the tongue, tonsils, or uvula; to have nasal polyps or congestion; and possibly, to exhibit other signs.
Q: How is sleep apnea treated?
A: There are various treatments for sleep apnea, depending on the severity of the problem and its likely cause. These include oral appliance therapy (wearing a retainer-like device in the mouth at night); orthodontic treatment and/or oral surgery; and using a CPAP (constant positive airway pressure) machine to help facilitate breathing at night. Each has advantages and disadvantages that should be discussed with a healthcare provider who has experience in the area of sleep disorders.
Q: What does all this have to do with dentistry?
A: Dentists are, of course, extremely familiar with the anatomy of the mouth. We sometimes notice signs of potential sleep problems before they become life-threatening. What’s more, we may be able to successfully treat the problem with oral appliance therapy. We can properly fabricate, fit and adjust an oral device that helps keep your airway open at night. Because it is inexpensive, removable, and relatively comfortable, an oral appliance may be a good remedy to try before moving on to more complex treatments, such as a CPAP machine or surgery. So if you think you might have SRBD, maybe it’s time to make an appointment and talk to us about it.
You may think snoring is a minor problem, but it can be a lot more than that. Just ask hoops star Shaquille O'Neal, whose rambunctious snoring bothered his girlfriend enough for her to suspect a health problem. Her observations eventually led to Shaq's diagnosis of moderate Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), which occurs when the soft tissue structures at the back of a person's throat, including the tongue, partially close off the upper airway and prevent air from moving into the lungs during sleep. Sometimes airflow can be blocked completely for 10 or more seconds.
When air flow is reduced, blood oxygen levels drop. This leads to brief waking episodes known as “micro-arousals,” which can happen sometimes more than 50 times an hour. The sleeper might not even be aware of this, even while gasping for air. Micro-arousals prevent the person from ever reaching deep, restful sleep.
Besides suffering from excessive daytime sleepiness, studies show sleep apnea patients are at higher risks of heart attacks, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, brain damage and strokes. People with sleep apnea also have a higher incidence of work and driving-related accidents.
OSA can be treated in a few different ways. On the advice of his doctor, Shaq opted for a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine, which generates pressurized air delivered through a face mask worn while sleeping. The force of the pressurized air opens the airway (windpipe) in the same way as blowing into a balloon does.
For people with milder OSA, or who find they can't tolerate wearing a mask during sleep, an oral appliance supplied by a dental professional might be the answer. Oral appliances are worn in the mouth and are designed to gently reposition the jaw and move the tongue forward away from the back of the throat. Success rates of 80% or more have been reported using oral appliances, depending on the severity of the OSA.
If you would like more information on sleep apnea, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about sleep apnea by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Snoring & Sleep Apnea.” Dear Doctor also has more on “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”