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Your Dentist Can Help Prevent the Deadly Effects of Sleep Apnea

Updated on June 20, 2011

Are you chronically sleepy during the day? Excessive snoring and waking up feeling unrefreshed are common symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a sleep disorder in which interruptions in breathing occur because the airway becomes narrowed or blocked by excess tissue when throat muscles relax. Episodes of apnea (not breathing) can occur as often as every few seconds during sleep causing frequent waking, and as you might expect, some serious long term consequences including cardiovascular disease and even death.

About 4% of middle aged adults and 3-12% of children suffer from this treatable condition, and it is particularly common among overweight people. Most are not aware that the problem exists until family members either witness periods of apnea (not breathing), or raise concerns about symptoms such as heavy snoring. Unfortunately, difficulty staying alert during waking hours may lead to accidents or injury before the diagnosis of Obstructive Sleep Apnea is made.

The most common treatment for OSA is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. Worn when sleeping, the CPAP is a type of respirator consisting of a snug fitting face mask and pressurized air flow that keeps the throat open, allowing patients to breathe more easily and consistently. The benefits of treatment can be life changing… and life saving. Unfortunately, many patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea have difficulty getting accustomed to wearing a CPAP mask, and give up after a short time because they find it intrusive.

There are several other ways to treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea, and if you think you may be experiencing some of the symptoms of this potentially serious sleep disorder you should bring it to the attention of your physician immediately. You should also be aware that your dentist may play an important role in treating your condition, especially if you are one of the people for whom a CPAP machine is not effective.

Surgery may be a recommended treatment is some cases, and could involve repositioning of the jaw by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, or perhaps removal of excess tissue in the throat (including tonsils or adenoids) by an ear nose and throat specialist (otorhinolayryngologist). One of the more common and effective solutions for mild to moderate sleep apnea is an oral appliance, custom crafted by a dentist with specialized training in sleep medicine. These FDA approved devices resemble orthodontic retainers, but are designed to reposition the lower jaw (Mandibular Advancement Device), elevate the soft palate, and increase muscle tone of the tongue (Tongue Retaining Device), thus keeping the airway unblocked during sleep.

The effects of Sleep Apnea are not only dangerous, research has indicated that they truly invade reduce the overall quality of nearly every aspect of life. The first step towards getting a better night’s sleep is to have a thorough examination by a physician specifically trained to diagnose and treat sleep disorders. Depending on the seriousness of your condition, your doctor may request that you participate in a sleep study, which will provide your health care team with precise data about your breathing and sleeping habits. The results of the sleep study will assist in determining which treatment options are likely to be most beneficial to you.

If you have been losing sleep, you can rest assured that our office will work with you and your medical team to ensure that you obtain an accurate diagnosis and treatment for this condition.


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