WHAT IS SLEEP APNEA?
Sleep apnea occurs when the airway is blocked either by the tongue or muscles in the airway, causing the cessation of breathing during sleep. As the patient falls asleep, the airway collapses causing Oxygen levels to drop. The body then goes into flight or fight response, which arouses them, enabling them to breathe, increase their Oxygen levels and fall back asleep. The average sleep apnea patient has hundreds of these events per night.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
People who suffer from sleep apnea are often found to be snorers. They also exhibit daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, and sometimes acid reflux. The continuous flight or fight response episodes make them more likely to suffer from hypertension, diabetes and heart issues.
WHO IS MORE PRONE TO HAVE SLEEP APNEA?
People who are obese and are mouth breathers are generally more prone to develop sleep apnea. Also those who have large necks, narrow airways, and large tonsils and airway muscles may have a higher predisposition as well.
HOW IS IT DIAGNOSED?
Your dentist can screen you for sleep apnea and can evaluate your neck, tongue and airway muscles. They will also look for certain wear patterns on the teeth which are a sign of sleep apnea. The diagnosis, however, is made by a sleep physician using the home sleep test or an overnight sleep study. They will then recommend treatment which may include referral to a dentist for an oral appliance.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
Severe sleep apnea is almost always treated with a CPAP (continuous positive air pressure) machine. Mild to moderate sleep apnea may be treated with weight loss, surgery, CPAP or an oral appliance. In children, the main treatment methods are removal of the tonsils and adenoids and expansion of the maxillary palate (roof of the mouth) with orthodontics.