Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a medical condition in which you stop breathing while you are asleep.  Sleep apnea is a serious health problem as it can increase the risk of stroke, obesity, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, and high blood pressure.  Because it drastically reduces the quality of your sleep and contributes to daytime sleepiness, sleep apnea is the leading cause of car accidents.  In addition to the above health problems, sleep apnea is a large contributor to cardiovascular disease and erectile dysfunction, as well as to memory and concentration impairment. 

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

You may be aware that you are not getting a good night's sleep however your symptoms will most likely be first noticed by family members.  Sleep apnea is most commonly identified by the following symptoms:

  • Gasping for air or choking during sleep.
  • Loud snoring.

When you are suddenly awoken during the night because of your inability to breathe properly your sleep is interrupted and you are prevented from feeling refreshed throughout the day.  You may struggle to stay awake during the day or feel irritable or depressed.  Additional signs of sleep apnea may include:

  • Being very tired during the day.
  • Waking up often during the night.
  • Waking with a sore throat or dry mouth.
  • Going to the bathroom often during the night.
  • Having headaches in the early morning.
  • Poor memory and difficulty concentrating.
  • Mood problems.

The above problems do not warrant signs that you suffer from sleep apnea.  There may be other problems associated with these problems other than sleep apnea.  Consult with your dentist to discuss your specific situation and he will evaluate your personal situation to see if you have sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea Treatment 

There are various different treatment options that you and your dentist may discuss during your consultation.  Some of the more conservative treatment treatments include:

Maintaining a healthy weight- A large contributor to sleep apnea is obesity.  Excess weight in the neck or abdomen can hinder the effectiveness of the breathing muscles and compress your airway.  If you suffer from sleep apnea and are obese, weight loss will be one of the first things that may be recommended to you.  In extreme obesity cases weight loss surgery may be considered as a treatment option.

Avoiding alcohol and tobacco use- Alcohol and tobacco use can contribute to airway depression that can negatively effect the way you sleep.  The combination of sleep apnea and these substances severely increases your chances of not recovering from breathing cessation in the night and could be lethal.

Sleeping on your side- Sleeping on your side as opposed to your back may help promote better breathing and limit the effects of sleep apnea.


Additional Treatment Options

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) - CPAP uses pressurized air generated from a bedside machine and is the preferred initial treatment for most people with obstructive sleep apnea.  The air moves through a tube, connected to a mask that comfortably covers your nose, mouth, or nose and mouth.  The device prevents airway closure while it is being used and is effective at preventing sleep apnea.  

Dentists have to be experienced at diagnosing and evaluating sleep apnea, and may be able to evaluate the tongue for its ability to move and determine if it is blocking airflow during sleep.  Often factors associated with age cause the tongue to become restricted as the mouth and gum tissue may shrink.  To remedy the effects of tongue restriction, your dentist may use a laser to eliminate the tissue causing the restriction.  The tissue may also be surgically removed but this method is less favorable because it involves a more invasive procedure and longer recovery time.

There are millions of people worldwide who suffer from the effects of sleep deprivation and often these conditions can be treated by a trained dental team.  For more information about sleep apnea treatments and prevention, visit the website of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine.

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