Sleep apnea is characterized by repetitive pauses in your breathing when you sleep. This condition can be potentially dangerous if left untreated.
The pauses in your breathing can occur several times in an hour and may last for as long as 10 seconds or even more. This results in a decrease in oxygen level in the blood, causing the brain to rouse the patient. Sleep apnea also leads to sleeping problems.
Patients with sleep apnea have these symptoms:
- Pauses in breathing
- Abnormal daytime sleepiness
Oftentimes, sleep apnea remains undiagnosed for a very long time. The reason for this is that it cannot be diagnosed during a routine appointment with your doctor and there are no laboratory tests to find out if you have this condition. Usually, you will find out you have sleep apnea from a family member or your partner. If sleep apnea is suspected, you may request a sleep study from your physician.
Types of Sleep Apnea
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): This occurs when the muscles in your throat relax during sleep. The airway is blocked, resulting in pauses in breathing. The blockage in the airway also creates loud snoring. People who are overweight are likely to develop OSA, as well as children with enlarged tonsils.
- Central sleep apnea (CSA): This type of apnea occurs when your brain is unable to send proper signals to the muscles to regulate your breathing. With CSA, the patient doesn’t typically snore.
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome (CompSAS): This occurs when an individual has obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA).
Sleep Apnea can lead to the following health problems:
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- heart arrhythmias
- heart attack
Treatment of Sleep Apnea
There are breathing devices that can be used to stop sleep apnea including the continuous positive airway (CPAP) machine which is the most recommended treatment for those suffering from OSA. The problem is that some patients are not compliant to this kind of treatment.
There are also challenges in CPAP therapy including skin irritation, dry nasal passages, inability to tolerate pressurized air and the accidental removal of the mask during sleep. Moreover, there are patients who are claustrophobic.
Patients who have such issues can consider other alternatives including the use of a dental appliance.
There are two kinds of dental devices used in treating sleep apnea and these can only be made by a qualified dentist.
1. Mandibular Advancement Device (MAD) – This looks like an athletic mouth guard and it snaps over your bottom and top teeth. There are hinges to push your lower jaw forward with ease, while keeping your soft palate and tongue stable to open up your airway during sleep.
2. Tongue Retaining Device – This appliance looks like a splint and it holds your tongue in place. While not as popular as MAD, it helps keep your airway open. The problem with this device is that it is less comfortable.
Who should Get an Oral Dental Appliance?
Patients may use any of these dental appliances if:
- They have mild to moderate sleep apnea.
- They have a snoring problem (even without sleep apnea).
- They want an alternative to CPAP Therapy.
- They were unsuccessfully treated through surgery.