Sleep disorders have become a significant health issue in recent years. It is estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from some form of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a common and serious sleeping disorder that occurs when your normal breathing is interrupted during sleep. Snoring is common among patients with sleep apnea, but not all snorers have sleep apnea.
There are two main types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea – is the result of blocked airflow during sleep and is the more common form of sleep apnea. It typically occurs when the soft tissues at the back of the throat collapse during deep sleep. This type of sleep apnea is more common in patients who may be overweight or those with large tonsils.
- Central Sleep Apnea – results from a problem with how the brain signals the breathing muscles. The airway is not necessarily blocked, but instead the brain does not properly signal the muscles to breathe. This type of sleep apnea may occur with conditions such as brain tumors, brain infections, heart failure or stroke.
Sleep apnea may affect individuals at any age, but men seem to be more prone to developing the disorder. Some of the common risk factors for developing sleep apnea are:
- Patients over age 40
- Large tonsils, large tongue, small jaw or improperly shaped arch forms
- Family history of sleep apnea or disorders
- Nasal obstruction due to deviated septum, allergies or sinus problems
If left untreated, sleep apnea may result in a number of health problems, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure, irregular heartbeat or heart attack
- Daytime sleepiness or drowsiness which would create an obvious hazard if driving or working around heavy or dangerous equipment
- Worsening ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
Your physician can diagnose if you have sleep apnea after evaluating your signs and symptoms and some tests:
- Sleep Study or Nocturnal Polysomnography – during this test, your heart rate, brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements and blood oxygen levels are monitored while your sleep.
- Home Sleep Tests – your doctor may provide you with some simplified tests to be used at home, which may indicate a need for a more in depth Sleep Study.
If you are diagnosed with Sleep Apnea, there are several treatment options, based on the severity of your case:
- Adjusting sleep habits – this may mean simply sleeping in a different position which would be less likely to result in an obstruction.
- Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) – this is a device which improves breathing while you sleep, by supplying air through the nasal passages. The continuous air pressure helps keep the airway open while sleeping.
- Oral Appliances – our office is able to fabricate custom made oral devices which would help shift and support the jaw to help prevent and minimize the airway from collapsing and increasing the size of the airway. We would also work in conjunction with your Sleep Specialists and local Oral Surgeons or Dental Specialists in coordinating your care.
- Oral appliances may be an option for patients who cannot tolerate a CPAP device. A CPAP machine would be the recommended mode of treatment, if the patient can tolerate wearing the appliance.
- Oral appliances may be an option for patients who travel a lot and may not be able to transport their CPAP machine easily.
- Oral appliances are more effective in milder cases of sleep apnea and may not be as effective in severe cases.
- Oral appliances may also help reduce or eliminate snoring in many patients.
Surgery would be recommended when other treatment options are unsuccessful in eliminating the symptoms of sleep apnea. Surgery helps eliminate excessive tissue which may be obstructing the airway.
It would be wise to consult with your physician or our office, if you or your spouse/partner are snoring in excess or possibly suffering from sleep apnea. A thorough evaluation can help determine a diagnosis and the best mode of therapy to help improve your overall health and quality of life.
(Excerpts from the Academy of General Dentistry and American Dental Association Websites)