One of the more dangerous conditions that falls under the umbrella of dental issues is sleep apnea. It is a sleep disorder that involves repeated pausing of breathing during sleep, and is considered life threatening. The term itself is derived from the Greek words for “without breath.” The pauses vary in length, usually lasting anywhere between seconds to minutes, and severe cases can have pausing happening as many as 30 or more times per hour. The ongoing disruptions to breathing cause an imbalance of carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the blood, due to the fact that not enough oxygen is entering and not enough carbon dioxide is exiting through the breath. We are proud to use the TAP® 3 Elite system for the treatment of sleep apnea.

As the body senses and reacts to this imbalance, the action is to restart the breathing process, causing people with sleep apnea to struggle for breath as they remain partially awake, often accompanied by loud snoring or choking. Due to the fact that a person with sleep apnea remains semi-conscious during the process, but is not fully awake, many times they remain un-diagnosed as they do not realize they have a problem.

The two types of sleep apnea:

Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain cannot send the correct signals to the breathing muscles.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when there is restrictions to air flow through the nose or mouth. Dentists have various methods of treating obstructive sleep apnea, which is the far more common type of the two. Common aspects of sleep apnea involves headaches, sleepiness during typical activities and insomnia.

Why treat sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea should be dealt with quickly if it is suspected, due to the fact that it is potentially life-threatening. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when soft tissues of the patient’s throat collapse into the airway. When the tongue falls toward the throat back the blockage tightens and prevents the flow of air into the lungs. As the chest, diaphragm and abdomen struggle for air the situation worsens, and the patient must awaken and push their tongue down to open the airway. As the carbon dioxide levels increase in the blood, the heart has to pump more to compensate for the lack of oxygen, causing patients to technically “die” several times per night. Sleep apnea is linked to several heart conditions.

What is sleep apnea treatment?

The patient will be examined and have their medical history and dental history considered in order to move forward with suitable treatment. There are several methods of treatment which will be considered based on the overall health of the patient. It will probably be suggested that the patient refrain from activities that aggravate sleep apnea like smoking, alcohol use and tranquilizers.

Although the past treatments involved wearing full masks to assist with sleep, treatments today many times will involve small devices that push the lower jaw slightly forward and open the airway. These devices are easy to wear, pain free and inexpensive.

Other treatment options involve surgeries to the lower jaw in order to pull the bone holding the tongue forward. These surgeries have a good success rate and are not difficult for your dentist at Portola Dental Group to perform.