Sleep apnea is characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing during sleep. These pauses can last several seconds and even upwards of a minute. The sufferer often does not even realize that he or she has the condition. There are three types of sleep apnea – central, obstructive, and mixed. Central sleep apnea is a disruption in breathing due to lack of respiratory effort, whereas obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a physical blockage that impedes air flow, and snoring is often a result. Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of both other forms of the condition.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles of the neck relax and the tongue falls back into the throat, constricting the airway. When this happens, the soft palate may vibrate, causing snoring. If the airway becomes completely obstructed, breathing can stop entirely.
Snoring and sleep apnea can have an impact on sleep quality and result in fatigue during the day. Sleep apnea can also lead to more serious conditions such as severe insomnia and sleep paralysis, and even cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. In severe cases, some individuals have died when their airways become completely blocked. Fortunately, there is help for those who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea in the form of oral appliances that your dentist may suggest.
Historically, CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) devices have been used to treat many sleep apnea patients. These devices consist of a plastic face mask connected to a machine that supplies pressurized air to keep the airway open. CPAP masks are available in different models, and they have been used as a traditional approach to treating sleep apnea. However, dentists have pioneered simpler, less invasive oral appliances that are more comfortable and compact than a traditional CPAP device. This new type of oral appliance treatment has yielded effective results and has proven easier to adopt than traditional CPAP therapy.
Since oral appliances must be custom fit to achieve maximum efficacy, they may need to be adjusted over time. A dentist who is educated in dental sleep medicine can work with a sleep physician to create a solution that works best for each sleep apnea patient.
If you suffer from sleep apnea, it might be worth a conversation with your dentist to learn about your treatment options. Nothing compares to the worth of a good night’s sleep.