SLEEP DISORDERED BREATHING
by W. Keith Thornton, DDS
Do you or a loved one snore?
Snoring occurs when a partial collapse in the throat causes vibration of the soft tissue as you breath. Snoring usually begins as a mild noise occurring occasionally. As the condition worsens, usually with age and weight gain, it becomes continuous, loud, and obtrusive, indicating a greater collapse of the throat. If the breathing effort interrupts the patient's sleep, the condition is known as "upper airway resistance syndrome." For many people, the throat continues to collapse to a point of total blockage, causing a cessation of airflow, and this condition is called "Obstructive Sleep Apnea." Research indicates that people with Obstructive Sleep Apnea are deprived of significant oxygen during their sleeping hours and are at higher risk for irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. Although less of a health problem, the fragmented sleep resulting from simple snoring can cause headaches, difficulty in concentration, fatigue, and reduced work performance. Not only does the snorer suffer from interrupted sleep but also anyone awakened by it.
Who has sleep apnea?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, as many as 18 million Americans have obstructive sleep apnea. It occurs in all age groups and both sexes but is more common in men (4% compared to 2% of women). You are most likely to develop sleep apnea if you are overweight, have high blood pressure, or have a physical abnormality in the nose, throat or elsewhere in the upper airway. Ingestion of alcohol and sleeping pills increases the frequency and duration of breathing pauses in people with this condition.
Treatments for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea fall into three categories. The first is surgery to remove some of the soft tissue of the upper airway or surgery to move the upper and lower jaws forward to open the airway. The second is wearing a mask attached to a machine while you are sleeping that provides continuous airway pressure to keep your throat open The third is wearing an oral device that has been properly constructed for you to adjust and retain your jaw in a favorable position for breathing while you sleep.
More people select the third category of treatment because it is noninvasive, less expensive, and reversible. It also can be provided and adjusted by your dentist. Most people receiving this treatment find it comfortable and therefore comply with their physician's or dentist's recommendations to wear it. They report getting a better night's sleep and know their health is improved.
Your dentist may be among those who have undertaken a course of study on sleep disordered breathing so they can appropriately treat their patients with the problem. Your dentist knows how to work with the medical community to help you receive the health evaluation and treatment that achieves the best results.