What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is an often-undiagnosed condition affecting millions of Americans. It is a disorder characterized by decreased levels of oxygen to the blood causing unusual pauses in breathing throughout the night. It is not “just snoring” as many people believe. In fact, you don’t snore during an apneic event, because you are not breathing. However, snoring is a red flag warning that you may have apnea.
Oxygen deprivation during an apneic event only lasts a few seconds, but these events occur many times throughout the night. Additionally, your sleep is repeatedly disturbed throughout the night. The cumulative result of poor quality sleep and routine oxygen deprivation can wreak havoc on your health.
What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
Like TMD, sleep apnea has been associated with a wide range of, yet often seemingly unrelated, problems including:
- Abrupt awakenings from sleep
- Attention problems
- Awakening with shortness of breath
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Episodes of breathing cessation witnessed by another person
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Loud snoring
- Waking up with a dry mouth or a sore throat
- Waking up with a headache in the morning
What Are the Common Causes of Sleep Apnea?
When a person has some resistance to their airflow, he or she will often snore. This is similar to what happens with sleep apnea, but the blockage is more pronounced. Sleep apnea can have many causes; here are some of the more common:
- Cardiovascular problems
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
- Family history
- Nasal congestion
- Throat and tongue muscles that are overly relaxed
Types of Sleep Apnea
The two main types of sleep apnea are obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by the throat muscles relaxing and blocking the airflow. Central sleep apnea is caused when the brain doesn’t send the signals to the muscles that control breathing, so the person temporarily stops breathing while sleeping.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
In traditional medicine, treatment for Sleep Apnea is CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). It is a machine which forces air into your lungs via a mask. The air pressure holds your airway open. Although it is largely effective, approximately 60 percent of all patients can’t tolerate the noise, discomfort, and inconvenience.
At Hiebert Smith Dental Group, we provide simple and comfortable oral appliance therapy. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, this technique is the gold standard in the treatment of mild to moderate apnea. We have been using these custom-made appliances to relieve sleep apnea with phenomenal results. The vast majority of patients no longer have any need for CPAP!
What Are the Dangers of Not Treating My Sleep Apnea?
Many people believe snoring and sleep apnea are the same thing, and they believe their snoring is the only problem with this condition. Actually, left untreated, sleep apnea can cause serious health concerns.
- Adult asthma — Those with adult asthma and sleep apnea tend to have more asthma attacks.
- Car accidents — People with sleep apnea are up to five times more likely than normal sleepers to have traffic accidents, and to even fall asleep at the wheel.
- Heart disease — People with obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to have heart attacks, strokes, and atrial fibrillation.
- High blood pressure — Waking up often during the night stresses your body and your hormone systems kick into gear, raising blood pressure levels.
- Type 2 diabetes — Sleep apnea is common in people with type 2 diabetes. Not getting enough sleep affects the way your body uses insulin.
- Weight gain — Sleep apnea can make your body release more of the hormone ghrelin, which makes you crave carbs and sweets.
Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
Both Dr. Heibert and Dr. Smith have extensive experience with sleep apnea. Properly diagnosing the condition involves weighing a combination of symptoms such as fatigue or waking up with a dry mouth and throat, along with input from your partner as to whether he or she often hears loud snoring or choking noises while you sleep. We’ll have you keep a sleep diary for two weeks. This will include information about what time you went to bed each night, when you woke up in the morning and how many times you woke up each night. From there, we may recommend either a home sleep apnea test or an in-lab overnight sleep test.
Schedule a Consultation
If you have questions regarding sleep apnea, the diagnosis, process, or oral sleep appliances, please contact Hiebert Smith Dental Group. Call (503) 397-6144 to schedule a consultation at our St. Helens office.