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 30 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 to oxygenate the brain.
Sensing this imbalance, the brain sends a message to the body, telling it to wake up to restart the breathing process. People with sleep apnea will partially awake as they struggle to breathe, and this is often accompanied by loud snoring or choking sensations. 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.
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 treatable by Dr. Gray.
Common signs of obstructive sleep apnea can include severe early morning headaches, sleepiness in the daytime, and insomnia. Generalized irritability is another symptom of those suffering from sleep apnea.
Reason for treating sleep apnea
It is very important to seek medical attention if sleep apnea is suspected. A sufferer can completely stop breathing numerous 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 then falls towards the back of the throat which tightens the blockage and prevents oxygen from entering 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. A sleep study will be recommended to determine your extent of episodes during the night, this will determine if an oral device or C-Pap therapy is the best route of treatment for your condition.
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 should be investigated by the dentist at the earliest opportunity.
What does sleep apnea treatment involve?
After a sleep study has been performed, Dr. Gray can then offer a number of different treatment options which depend largely your exact diagnosis and your overall health. Dr. Gray may advise you to halt some habits that aggravate sleep apnea such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and tranquilizer use.
Dental devices that gently tease the lower jaw forward are very effective in preventing the tongue from blocking the main air passage. These dental devices are gentle, easy to wear, and often help patients avoid unwanted surgeries. Often times a patient may not be able to tolerate the C-Pap machine for whatever reason and the only treatment option is a removable dental device. There are some patients unwilling or unable to tolerate any device while sleeping, these patients put themselves a severe risk of a cardiac event or increase their chances of developing Alzheimers disease to long term effects of oxygen deprivation from sleep apnea.
If you feel you may benefit from sleep apnea treatment, contact our office for an evaluation and consultation.
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