Sleep apnea is a serious and potentially life threatening sleep disorder that is defined by repeated pauses in breathing while asleep. The most common form of this condition is known as obstructive sleep apnea. This condition occurs when there is an obstruction of an individual’s airway, which as a result interferes with the flow of oxygen through the nose or mouth during sleep.
Obstructive sleep apnea is occurs when the muscles of the throat and mouth relax during sleep to the point where they fall back into the upper airway and create a blockage that restricts breathing.
Symptoms of this disorder include loud snoring, episodes of breathing cessation, abrupt awakenings, episodes of gasping for air, and difficulty getting a good night’s sleep. Not only will a patient show signs of problems during the night, but symptoms show up during the day, as well. Sleep apnea can cause a morning headache, excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.
To diagnose the disorder, a sleep study is typically conducted. The results of this study along with other medical findings will play a role in determining the recommended therapy. The most common form of therapy is a CPAP machine that is worn when sleeping. The CPAP device provides a steady stream of pressurized air into the respiratory system through a mask.
If mild to moderate sleep apnea is present, a dental appliance may be the recommended approach. Worn like a mouthguard or an orthodontic retainer, it is designed to help keep the tongue and soft tissues in the back of the throat from collapsing, thereby enabling the airway to stay open during sleep. An oral appliance is a good choice because it is easy to wear, easy to care for, comfortable, and portable. Oral appliances are custom fabricated, and made for both maximum effectiveness and comfort.
Sleep Apnea Process
Sleep apnea can cause a patient to stop breathing up to hundreds of times per evening, for time periods ranging from 5 seconds to over a minute in length. While breathing is stopped, and oxygen is restricted to the heart and brain, the increased heart rate and stimulation causes the body to momentarily wake. This disruption in sleep pattern is what causes excessive daytime drowsiness and exhaustion in patients.