sleep apnea

what is sleep apnea?
sleep apnea is when a person stops breathing during sleep due to the collapse of the airway. so basically, you are choking while you sleep and most people are totally unaware that this is happening.

sleep apnea, like snoring, falls under the category of “sleep disorder breathing”.

what are the symptoms?
there are many. from the patient’s stand point there is waking up gasping for breath, excessive daytime sleepiness, feeling unrefreshed upon waking, headaches, neck aches and sore jaws. their bed partner is often witness to additional symptoms like excessive snoring, gasping for air and complete stoppage of breathing. clinically, the dentist sees symptoms like chipped or broken teeth due to excessive grinding, notched teeth along the gum line, scalloped tongue and scarred mucosa of the cheeks. discomfort in the temporomandibular joint (tmj) is also common.

how does sleep apnea affect the body’s overall health?
sleep apnea can have a very negative effect on the body. when a person stops breathing throughout the night, the blood oxygen levels start to plummet, reducing the amount of oxygen needed for the vital organs to function properly. the effects are often not immediate. over time, poor oxygen to the body will result in hypertension, cardiovascular disease, acid reflux, diabetes, thyroid problems, obesity and depression.

how can i determine if i am a candidate for sleep apnea?
at our office, if a patient shows clinical signs of sleep apnea in their teeth and medical history, we screen them for sleep apnea. we first assess the airway by visual exam. next, the patient simply blows into a tube to check the compliance of the muscles of the airway. if this procedure shows a collapse, we send you home with a small sleep monitor. we download results and if there are any concerns we set up an appointment at a certified sleep lab for an overnight sleep study. dentists cannot diagnose sleep apnea. certified sleep doctors must make the diagnosis of sleep disorder breathing and recommend treatment options.

how can my dentist help with the treatment options for sleep apnea?
if a patient is diagnosed with sleep apnea, it can be effectively managed. for years, using a c-pap and surgery were the only options for the condition. now, the american academy of sleep medicine (aasm) states, “that a properly adjusted mouthpiece approved by the fda for sleep apnea is just as effective as a c-pap for treating mild to moderate sleep apnea.” many patients with sleep apnea cannot wear a c-pap due to claustrophobia, mask leaks, high pressures and inconvenient or difficult operating procedures. they simply become more of a burden than an effective treatment option. mouthpieces can be the answer because they can reduce leaks and pressure, allowing the patient a more natural pattern of sleep.

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