What is Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a debilitating condition that affects millions of Americans. It is a condition characterized by episodes of cessation of breathing during sleep, and a reduction in the oxygen levels present in the body. Although the main effect of this is a tired, fatigued feeling, a bigger problem lies below the surface. Because the oxygen levels are reduced in those suffering from sleep apnea, the body responds to this by releasing hormones. These hormones tend to increase heart rate and blood pressure to compensate for the drop in oxygen. Long term, these hormones can cause hypertension and put extra stress on the cardiovascular system. Nights of reparative, satisfying sleep turn into taxing, overuse of the cardiovascular system and this can have a fatal long-term effect. These same hormones that cause the increased response of the cardiovascular system can lead to diabetes, depression and other systemic disorders. Dentists have a unique opportunity to aid in diagnosing Obstructive Sleep Apnea as well as treating the condition. While a dentist alone cannot diagnose the condition, we can look for certain signs that help to identify those at risk These signs include bruxism (teeth grinding), obesity, enlarged tongue and snoring.
How to Treat it
A true diagnosis requires a polysomnogram (sleep study) and must be interpreted by a physician. If diagnosed, the gold standard of treatment involves CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). Although this is the ideal treatment, unfortunately about half of the patients cannot tolerate this approach. We as dentists can offer an alternative in the form of oral appliances that reposition the jaw, resulting in an increased airway space. If you are someone who suffers some sleep apnea and cannot tolerate CPAP therapy, ask us about what we can do to help you. Why continue to struggle with fatigue? Ask us about some of the alternatives available and be on your way to healthier sleep.
Check out this CNN article from last year that highlighted a dentist's role in Sleep Apnea Therapy.