Sleep Apnea, it erodes your health over time and 90% of people who have it, don’t even know it! It can cause high blood pressure, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and lead to accidents caused by sleep deprivation. Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening sleep disorder characterized by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. The term sleep apnea is derived from the Greek etymology meaning “without breath”. 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, as not enough carbon dioxide is exiting and not enough oxygen is entering the body.
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. Because people with sleep apnea don’t always completely awake during the 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 by the dentist. Many people would not think of going to the dentist to address sleep apnea. Yet, dentists can be highly trained in treating sleep apnea as it has everything to do with your mouth, jaw and surrounding areas. In the past the only solution was CPAP, a machine that constantly forces air into your lungs, today there are simple teeth appliances you can wear to solve the problem.
Common signs of obstructive sleep apnea may include:
-physical characteristics of neck
-sleepiness in the daytime
-poor mental/emotional health
-difficulty with learning and memory
Fortunately, the dentist is equipped with the necessary technology and expertise to treat sleep apnea in several different ways.
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, and 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 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 by the dentist at the earliest opportunity.
What does sleep apnea treatment involve?
Initially, the dentist will want to conduct tests in order to investigate, diagnose, and pinpoint a suitable treatment.
The first test, if you have not already been diagnosed with sleep apnea is a home sleep study to determine whether or not you have sleep apnea. This study monitors your breathing, pulse, oxygen saturation and so forth while sleeping. After diagnosis we need to determine the reason for the apnea. One such test is a rhinometer, which checks for blockages in the nasal cavities using accoustics. A sound wave is transmitted into the nasal cavity and is then reflected back from the nasal passages and converted into a digital image showing the cross-sectional area of the nasal cavity. Another test is a phayngometer. This device is used to image and check for blockages in the mouth, neck and throat. It also utilizes accoustics. The dentist can offer many different treatment options depending largely on the exact diagnosis and the health of the patient. The dentist may advise the patient to halt some habits that aggravate sleep apnea such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and tranquilizer use.
Sleeping masks (CPAP) were traditionally used to keep the patient’s airways open while they slept, but nowadays there are some less intrusive options. Dental devices that gently tease the lower jaw forward are very effective in preventing the tongue from blocking the main air passage. These dental devices are gentle, easy to wear, and often help patients avoid unwanted surgeries.
A more permanent solution is to have surgery that sections the lower jaw and helps pull the bone holding the tongue forward slightly. This surgery has an impressive success rate and is simple for the oral surgeon to perform. The dentist needs to formally make a diagnosis of each individual case before recommending the best course of action.
If you feel you may benefit from sleep apnea treatment, contact our practice today.
If you have any questions, concerns, or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact our Winnepeg dental office today @ 204-947-0247. Click here to schedule your appointment online. We look forward to providing you with the personal care you deserve.