Sleep Apnea

If you snore at night, stop breathing periodically during sleep, or often feel fatigued during the day, you might be suffering from sleep apnea. There are three different types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and complex. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is caused by relaxation of throat muscles during sleep leading to obstruction of the airway. When the airway is blocked, breathing stops briefly until the brain alerts the body to open the airways to resume breathing. Surprisingly, this cycle can occur more than 30 times in an hour during sleep, unbeknownst to the patient. This condition affects approximately 4% of the US population (20 million people), with an average of 92% of men and 80% of women being undiagnosed. Those most commonly diagnosed with sleep apnea are overweight males over the age of 40 years; however, this disease can affect anyone at any age. What people may not know is that this is a severe life-threatening disease, increasing the risk for hypertension, sudden death, stroke, and ischemic heart disease. Once your dentist suspects that you could be suffering from this condition, a referral is made to a physician for an evaluation and polysomnogram sleep study. Once the diagnosis has been confirmed by the physician, your dentist will take impressions of your teeth in order to fabricate an oral appliance to be worn during sleep. This appliance aids in opening and maintaining the airway by shifting the jaw forward, preventing the muscles in the throat from blocking air spaces. For more severe cases, CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), ENT surgery, or maxillomandibular advancement surgery may be necessary in order to correct the problem. Other ways to help alleviate or prevent the condition from developing is by altering sleep position, avoiding alcohol/sedatives, relieving nasal congestion, reducing weight, and smoking cessation. Considering that sleep is one of the most important componenets of health and that sleep apnea is a risk factor for life-threatening diseases, we strongly encourage you to consult with your dentist and/or physician if you think you may be suffering from this condition.