Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening sleep disorder characterized by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. Breathing pauses can last anywhere from several seconds to minutes, and happen as often as 60 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 lack of oxygen, the brain sends a message to the body, telling it to wake up and restart the breathing process. People with sleep apnea will partially awake as they struggle to breathe. This is often accompanied by loud snoring, choking sensations and episodes of gasping for air. 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 for years.
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 is the disorder that can be treated with Mandibular Advancement Devices or Sleep Apnea Devices.
Common signs of obstructive sleep apnea can include severe early morning headaches, excessive sleepiness in the daytime, difficulty concentrating throughout the day and insomnia. Our doctors are trained to recognize the symptoms of sleep apnea, work with your primary care physician to properly diagnose your disorder and if deemed appropriate, fabricate a Mandibular Advancement Device to treat your symptoms.
Reason for treating sleep apnea
It is very important to seek medical attention if sleep apnea is suspected. A sufferer can completely stop breathing over 60 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 will then fall back into the airway which increases the blockage and prevents the flow of oxygen to the lungs.
The problem worsens when the chest region, diaphragm, and abdomen fight for air. The efforts they make to obtain vital oxygen only cause a further tightening of the blockage. The patient must arouse from deep sleep to tense the tongue and remove the soft tissue from the airway.
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 stroke, and should be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.
What does sleep apnea treatment involve?
After a thorough clinical exam, Dr. Kend or Dr. Thunberg will refer you to your medical doctor or an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, so that he or she can conduct tests in order to investigate, diagnose, and pinpoint a suitable treatment. A sleep study is usually recommended and the results, along with other clinical findings, are then used to determine the best available treatment for you. If recommended, our doctors will fabricate a dental device, also known as a Mandibular Advancement Device or Sleep Apnea Appliance, which can help minimize your snoring and significantly improve your sleep apnea. Dr. Kend or Dr. Thunberg may advise you to halt some habits that aggravate sleep apnea such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and tranquilizer use.
Sleeping masks, also called CPAP( Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machines, are traditionally used to keep the patient’s airways open while they sleep, but nowadays there are some less intrusive options. Mandibular Advancement Devices that gently tease the lower jaw forward are very effective in preventing the tongue from blocking the main air passage. These devices are gentle, easy to wear, and often help patients avoid unwanted surgeries. However, CPAP continues to be the gold standard to treat Apnea and we highly recommend that our patients attempt to adapt to this treatment before trying a Mandibular Advancement Device.
A more permanent solution is to have surgery that sections the lower jaw and helps pull the bone holding the tongue forward slightly. This surgery has an impressive success rate and is performed by an oral surgeon in a hospital setting. Again, Dr. Kend or Dr. Thunberg will discuss your case with your doctor to fomally make a diagnosis of each individual case before recommending the best course of action.