Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening sleep disorder characterized by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. Breathing pauses can last anywhere from several seconds to minutes, and happen as often as 30 times or more per hour. Ongoing disrupted breathing causes an imbalance between the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the bloodstream.
Sensing this imbalance, the brain sends a message to the body, telling it to wake up to restart the breathing process. People with sleep apnea will partially awake as they struggle to breathe and this is often accompanied by loud snoring or choking sensations. Because people with sleep apnea don’t always completely awake during these episodes, they are often unaware they have a sleeping disorder and it can remain undiagnosed.
There are two main types of this disorder; central sleep apnea which occurs when the brain fails to send important signals to the breathing muscles and obstructive sleep apnea which occurs when air cannot flow through the nose or mouth even though the body is still trying to breathe. Obstructive sleep apnea is far more prevalent and easily treatable.
Common signs of obstructive sleep apnea can include morning headaches, sleepiness in the daytime, snoring and insomnia. Fortunately, our dentists are equipped with the necessary technology and expertise to treat sleep apnea.
Reason for treating sleep apnea
It is very important to seek medical attention if sleep apnea is suspected. A sufferer can completely stop breathing numerous times per hour. This can quickly turn into a deadly situation. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissue lying at the back of the patient’s throat collapses into the airway. The tongue then falls towards the back of the throat which tightens the blockage and prevents oxygen from entering the lungs.
The problem worsens when the chest region, diaphragm, and abdomen fight for air. The efforts they make to obtain vital oxygen only cause a further tightening of the blockage. The patient must arouse from deep sleep to tense the tongue and remove the soft tissue from the airway.
Because sleep apnea causes carbon dioxide levels to skyrocket in the blood and oxygen levels to decrease, the heart has to pump harder and faster to compensate for the lack of oxygen. Sleep apnea patients can technically “die” many times each night. Sleep apnea has been linked to a series of serious heart-related conditions and should be investigated at the earliest opportunity.
What does sleep apnea treatment involve?
Initially, your dentist or physician will want you to have a sleep study to diagnose and pinpoint a suitable treatment. Treatment options depend largely on the exact diagnosis and the health of the patient.
CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) devices are the "gold standard" and are used to keep the patient’s airways open while they sleep. If patients are unable to tolerate the CPAP, there are dental appliances that move the lower jaw forward and are very effective in preventing the tongue from blocking the main air passage.
Wearers of sleep apnea dental appliances report that they stop loud snoring, feel more rested in the daytime, and are much more comfortable going to sleep. Our office uses the Somnodent Oral Appliance which offers a viable alternative to Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP).
Somnodent Oral Appliance
The Somnodent appliance is adjustable and designed to move the base of the tongue toward the front of the mouth by gently repositioning the jawbone (mandible) gradually. This shift opens the oropharynx and strengthens the upper airway. This adjustable appliance is comfortable to wear and extremely patient friendly.