Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening medical disorder. It is characterized by repeated breathing pauses during sleep. These pauses can last from several seconds to minutes, and can happen as often as thirty times per hour. This disrupted breathing causes an imbalance between oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the bloodstream because not enough oxygen is entering and not enough carbon dioxide is exiting the body.
When the brain senses this imbalance, it sends a message to the body restart the breathing process. As the person struggles to breathe he will partially awaken. This is often accompanied by choking sensations or loud snoring. But because the person often doesn’t awaken completely to start the breathing process, he may be unaware of the sleeping disorder and it remains undiagnosed. Sleep apnea affects around 10% of men and 6% of women over the age of 40.
There are two main types of sleep apnea: central sleep apnea which occurs when signals are not sent from the brain to the breathing muscles, and obstructive sleep apnea which occurs when air cannot flow through the mouth or nose when the body is trying to breathe. Common signs of this type of sleep apnea include early morning headaches, daytime sleepiness, and insomnia. Obstructive sleep apnea is more common than central sleep apnea and there are several types of treatment available.
Reasons to treat sleep apnea
It is important to seek medical attention if sleep apnea is suspected. A sufferer can stop breathing many times per hour, and this can become a deadly situation. Obstructive sleep apnea happens with the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapses into the airway. The tongue then falls to the back of the throat. This blocks the airway and prevents oxygen from entering the lungs. The chest, diaphragm, and abdomen fight for air, but these efforts only cause further tightening of the blockage. The patient must awaken in order to tense the tongue and remove the soft tissue from the air passage.
Sleep apnea causes oxygen levels to decrease and carbon dioxide levels to increase. This forces the heart to pump harder and faster. Sleep apnea has been associated with several serious heart conditions and should be discussed with a dentist at the earliest opportunity.
Sleep apnea treatments
The dentist will conduct tests to evaluate and diagnose the individual case before recommending the best course of treatment. The patient may be advised to discontinue some habits that aggravate the condition such as alcohol consumption, smoking, and tranquilizer use.
Traditionally sleeping masks were used to keep the patient’s airways open while asleep. Currently there are some less intrusive options. Dental appliances that gently move the lower jaw forward and prevent the tongue from blocking the air passages are very effective. They are gentle, easy to wear, and can enable patients to avoid surgery.
A more permanent solution is surgery on the lower jaw and helps to pull the bone holding the tongue forward. This surgery is simple and effective.
If you have any questions or concerns about sleep apnea, please call or contact our office.