Sleep Apnea

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As many as 20 million people in North America may have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a type of sleep disorder which is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition characterized by brief interruptions during sleep. There are basically three types of apnea:

  1. Central Apnea: The upper airway is open but no oxygen gets into the system. This occurs
    because the patient is not getting a chemical response from the brain to stimulate the lungs and diaphragm to assist with breathing.
  2. Obstructive Sleep Apnea: The lungs are operating normally, but no oxygen is entering the system because there is an obstruction, usually the tongue, moving back and closing off the throat.
  3. Mixed Apnea: This is a combination of central and obstructive sleep apnea.

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Sleep Apnea Information

In September 1995, the American Sleep Disorder Association (ASDA) endorsed oral appliance therapy as the third currently acceptable treatment modality for snoring and sleep apnea. The two most common solutions include CPAP machines,( continuous positive air pressure), or the removal of either the excess palatal tissue or the uvula.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airway is completely blocked for certain periods of time. The signs and symptoms of OSA include snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, gasping or choking during the night, non-refreshed sleep, fragmented sleep, clouded memory, irritability, personality changes, decreased sex drive, impotence, and morning headache.

Factors that affect obstructive sleep apnea are as follows:

  • – Age
  • – Obesity
  • – Alcohol
  • – Sedative hypnotics (sleeping pills)

Children can also snore and suffer from OSA. Often they are highly allergic, and their airway is blocked due to enlarged adenoids, tonsils or swollen nasal mucosa. Clinical signs would indicate a turned up nose, allergic ‘shiners’ under the eyes, mucous draining out of the nose, mouth breathing, and a nasal sound to the voice. Other signs are bed wetting, irritability, difficulty in concentrating at school and hyperactivity.

At the present time, OSA is defined as a medical problem and the diagnosis must be made by a medical doctor or sleep physician (pulmonologist) who is specially trained in the area of sleep medicine. It is mostly being controlled and treated by the medical professional. Despite the fact that the American Sleep Disorder Association finally endorsed oral appliance therapy as the third acceptable (and potentially less complicated) treatment method for snoring and sleep apnea, the vast majority of medical doctors are not aware of the value of oral appliances. As time goes by, the public will become more aware of the health risks associated with snoring and sleep apnea. It is the dental professionals’ responsibility to educate their members, the public and the medical profession about the important role that dentists and oral appliances play in the treatment of snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.