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Sleep Apnea and Dental Care

 

Sleep apnea can be a very serious sleep disorder that involves breathing that repeatedly starts and stops while you’re sleeping. Sufferers can start and stop breathing up to hundreds of times per night.

There are three main types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (most common form that happens when the throat muscles relax), central sleep apnea (happens when the brain doesn’t send correct signals to the muscles that control breathing) and complex sleep apnea (combination of both above). Complex sleep apnea is not as common as the other two. One way to tell if you have sleep apnea is if you snore loudly and feel tired after waking up from a full night’s sleep.

The Greek word ‘apnea’ simply means without breath. According to the National Institutes of Health, this sleep disorder affects more than 12 million Americans, mainly males who are obese and over the age of 40. Unfortunately, this number is high due to misdiagnosis of the condition, or no diagnosis at all.

Sleep apnea relates to dentistry in the way of treatment methods by your dentist or an oral surgeon. Medical doctors may also be apart of your treatment plan. If this sleep disorder is left untreated, it can affect things such as your blood pressure, erectile functioning, and memory, and can lead to things such as concentration impairments and cardiovascular disease. Plus, since the disorder disrupts your sleeping many people suffer from fatigue every day. In fact, sleep apnea is a leading cause of car accidents, both during the day and at night.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Sleep apnea is not always detected by the person suffering from the disorder. Many times, the first indication is a loved one noticing symptoms such as loud snoring. There are numerous signs, but the top two are the most common sleep apnea symptoms:

  • Loud Snoring
  • Gasping for air or choking while sleeping
  • Headaches each morning
  • Poor memory
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Wake up with a sore throat or dry mouth each morning
  • Frequent urination during the night
  • Restless moving
  • Waking yourself up from snoring or lack of air

Sleep Apnea Causes

Each type of sleep apnea is caused by different reasons. Let’s go over what causes each.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea - This is the most common form of sleep apnea and occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax as you drift off to sleep. These muscles support the soft palate, the uvula (triangular piece hanging from the soft palate, the tonsils and the tongue. When the muscles relax, the airways closes, momentarily stopping the passage of air. Your brain then realizes you haven’t received air and briefly wakes you to reopen your airway. This usually occurs without the sufferer being fully awake. Sufferers may make snorting sounds that repeat 5-30 minutes every hour, sometimes all night long.

Central Sleep Apnea - This form of sleep apnea isn’t as common and occurs when your brain fails to send signals to the muscles that control your breathing. Many people who suffer from this type of sleep apnea awake with shortness of breath or have difficulty getting or staying asleep every night. Snoring and daytime fatigue are common symptoms, but this disorder can lead to heart disease and even strokes.

Complex Sleep Apnea - This type of sleep apnea is also referred to as ‘mixed sleep apnea’ and is caused when the upper airways is obstructed, but breathing patterns show lapses in breathing efforts. This is a rare form of the sleep disorder.

Sleep Apnea Treatment

If you only suffer from a mild form of sleep apnea your doctor may suggest changing things within your lifestyle, such as a diet or smoking. However if you suffer from a more serious or severe form of sleep apnea your doctor may recommend one of the following treatment methods:

CPAP - Continuous positive airway pressure is a machine that delivers air pressure through a mask that is placed over your nose while you sleep. This treatment keeps the patients airways open and prevents snoring and apnea. Many people complain and even stop using the machine due to discomfort of the straps and the mask.

Adjustable Airway Pressure Devices - This may help if CPAP (SEE-pap) continues to be a problem, as this type of device adjusts the pressure automatically while you sleep. It provides more pressure when you inhale and less while you exhale.

Oral Appliance - This treatment usually involves your dentist. Appliances may work when other methods don’t. It’s not as reliable as CPAP, but patients are more comfortable while they sleep. There are numerous different appliances as some keep your throat open simply by bringing your jaw forward. Dental visits will need to be regular (twice a year) to ensure the device is continuously working properly and effectively.

Surgery – Surgery is done to remove excess tissue from your nose or throat that may be causing vibrations, which causes you to snore and blocks your upper air passages. Three common surgeries are called UPPP, maxillomandibular advancement and tracheostomy, as well as the removal of the tonsils.

Page updated February 2011

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