Sleep apnea is serious and 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 can 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 or choking sensations. 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 a number of signs that can point to sleep apnea.
Common signs of sleep apnea can include:
- Severe early morning headaches
- Chronic Fatigue
- Venous Pooling (Dark Circles Under the Eyes)
- Frequent Trips to the Restroom at Night
- Daytime Sleepiness
Some not so obvious signs can include:
- Chronic Depression
- Chronic Pain
- Persistent Headaches
- Heart Disease
Children may show the signs listed above and these additional signs of sleep disorder breathing including:
- Mouth breathing
- Teeth Grinding
- Narrow/Under developed jaw (teeth crowding)
- Behavior Problems
- Stunted Grown
- Difficulty learning/ Problems in School
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.
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.
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.
Dr. Gardner is equipped with the necessary technology and expertise to diagnose and treat these conditions with personalized therapies.
What does sleep apnea treatment involve?
Traditionally Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) sleeping masks have used forced air to keep the patient’s airways open while they slept. In addition to being uncomfortable, this form of treatment can be considered a life sentence because this treatment does not cure the sleep apnea it simply manages the symptoms and can come with a number of side effects.
Today there are less intrusive options. Dental devices can be used gently expand the palate opening the airway overtime and correcting tongue position. Dental devices that are used to gently advance the lower jaw 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.
If you feel you may benefit from sleep apnea treatment the therapy is completely pain free. Initially, Dr. Gardner will want to conduct tests in order to investigate, diagnose, and pinpoint a suitable treatment. An in home sleep study can be used to assess your sleep patterns. A diagnostic scan of your airway will also help assess the severity of the obstruction. After review of your sleep study Dr. Gardner can offer many different treatment options which depend largely on the exact diagnosis and the health of the patient. He may also advise the patient to halt some habits that aggravate sleep apnea such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and tranquilizer use.
If you or someone you know are experiencing symptoms contact our office today.