What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea, a disorder that affects about 12 million Americans, is characterized by breathing pauses during sleep, which may last for 20 to 30 seconds or more. Sleep apnea episodes usually happen five to 30 times in an hour and may cause sleep disturbances. Snorting, choking, and snoring are typical to people with sleep apnea. It is common in men and older people, although women and children can also be diagnosed with it.

Because of the nature of the condition, people with sleep apnea are normally not aware of their sleeping irregularities. In fact, it is said that 80 to 90% of people with sleep apnea are undiagnosed. Usually, it is their bed partners who notice their condition.

If you or a partner suspect you might have sleep apnea, we can help. Please call (843) 903-3111 today for an appointment with sleep dentist Dr. Dustin Holladay at Carolina Forest Cosmetic Dentistry.

Types of sleep apnea

There are two types of sleep apnea. The more common is called obstructive sleep apnea and involves a blocked airway. This blockage can result from over-relaxed throat muscles and tongue, obesity, and facial and bone structure deformities. Once the airway is blocked, breathing stops and the person begins to gasp and snort.

The oxygen level decreases, while carbon dioxide level increases. This then stimulates the brain to normalize the breathing process and prompts the person to wake up and to open the airway by adjusting the tongue and throat muscles. Normal breathing then ensues followed usually by loud snoring. The sleeper is usually not aware they were awake for a short time. They also don’t know that they were gasping for air.

The other type is called central sleep apnea, which is caused by the brain’s delayed signals to the breathing muscles. Breathing stops and oxygen level begins to drop. Central sleep apnea is less common. It is a central nervous system disorder. Injury or disease that involves the brainstem, such as stroke and brain tumor, can cause central sleep apnea. Though people with central sleep apnea may not typically snore, they may experience shortness of breath.

People can have both types of sleep apnea. Both types have similar effects: low level of oxygen in the brain, poor sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and even depression. They can also contribute to high blood pressure and heart irregularities when the oxygen reaches a dangerously low level. However, loud snoring linked to sleep apnea can cause sleep deprivation for others in the room, house, or apartment.

What Should You Do about Sleep Apnea?

It would rather be hard for a person to know whether he has sleep apnea, since the condition manifests only during sleep. However, if he suspects to having the condition, especially if he shows the symptoms, he can opt to document his sleeping patterns. For instance, he can ask his bed partner to journal episodes of breath pauses, snoring, choking, or snorting. Or if he sleeps alone, he can videotape himself sleeping and notice if there are irregularities. These observations would help determine if seeing a doctor or a sleep specialist is necessary.

Upon diagnosis, the sleep specialist would recommend treatments or surgeries depending on the severity of the condition. But for minor sleep apnea, some behavioral treatments or lifestyle changes can be helpful. Examples are avoidance of alcohol and tobacco, weight loss, and having regular sleep hours.  In our office we recommend oral appliance therapy for the treatment of sleep apnea.  It’s non-invasive and is the most comfortable option available for treating sleep apnea.

What Is Oral Appliance Therapy for the Treatment of Sleep Apnea

For many years, the CPAP or “Continuous Positive Airway Pressure,” has been the gold standard for treating sleep apnea.  However, compliance with the treatment is very low for a variety of reasons.  Some cannot wear it because of the closed in feeling that it gives them due to the mask being so tight on the face.  Others don’t like the noise of the machine or the condensation that occurs at times that splashes back on their face or up their nose.  For some it is the hose.  The fact is the CPAP is just uncomfortable for most people which leads to non-compliance with the treatment plan leaving their health at risk.

Now there is an alternative treatment to CPAP.  “Oral Appliance Therapy”  uses a comfortable custom made device that fits nicely into the mouth and holds the lower jaw slightly forward.  This opens the airway allowing the free flow of oxygen helping you to get the sleep you need.  There are no hoses, mask, electricity or condensation to deal with.  Just a comfortable restful nights sleep. It is only effective on obstructive sleep apnea, but thanks to greater compliance it is as effective as CPAP.

The Oral Appliance Procedure

If you haven’t had a sleep study done, that is the first step in order to diagnose your apnea.  We can help you get one of two types of sleep tests.  One is to go to a sleep study center and have the test done.  The other is an at home test where you attach similar equipment to yourself and then sleep that night with it on.  You just have to choose the option that best suits you. Insurance companies these days favor at-home tests. They are less expensive and are usually just as effective.

Once you have a sleep study done, you then make an appointment with our office and your bring your sleep study with you.  We will look at your study and then determine whether or not you are a candidate for the oral appliance therapy.

If we determine you are a candidate for the treatment, we will then look at the condition of your teeth and bite.  We will then take an impression of your teeth and send that impression to a lab where they will make the device to custom fit your mouth.  Once we receive the appliance back from the lab, you will then come in and we will fit the device in your mouth and make any adjustments that are necessary. Regular visits help ensure your device remains effective and comfortable.

The oral appliance really is the total freedom device when it comes to treating sleep apnea.  Most people report sleeping all night for the first time in years after getting the device and even talk about how wonderful it is to dream again.  For all it is a total life saver as they will avert many health problems with this cutting edge treatment.

If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and you can’t or want wear the CPAP, then call our office today and let us help you get your life back.