Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment of Sleep Apnea
2015 l 2:00 pm

The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine says that approximately 25 million adult Americans suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Dentistry IQ says that OSA negatively affects 83% of women and 92% of men in the United States. They say OSA is a serious condition. It is responsible for more early deaths than cancer and AIDS combined, yet it is often undiagnosed.

This is a very common problem and causes many adults to feel tired during the day as well as function poorly on the job or while doing other tasks. Many do not realize that they have this condition. Often it is the disturbance of a partner, sleeping next to them, that lets them know about the problem.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

People with sleep apnea have a chronic condition, which causes blockage of the airway while sleeping. Sometimes this lasts for only a few seconds, but this can also last for a minute or longer. When this happens, the person chokes and then gasps for air. Snoring is also common.

These choking episodes result in the person not getting enough oxygen and may occur up to hundreds of times during a single night. Even though the sleep is disturbed, many times a person does not fully awaken to realize what is happening.

The lack of proper oxygenation during the night prevents the needed cellular regeneration that normally happens during a comfortable night of adequate sleep. This causes all kinds of other diseases to occur that are “co-morbidities” of OSA. Patients who suffer from OSA are literally slowly choking to death.

Unless corrective actions reduce the problems causing sleep apnea, the condition lasts for a lifetime and possibly gets worse as a person ages. Sleep apnea causes daytime fatigue, sleepiness, headaches, and potential loss of memory. Over time, sleep apnea is a contributing factor in serious disease conditions, which include acid reflux, blood pressure problems, diabetes, heart conditions, and stroke. Sleep apnea also contributes to erectile dysfunction in men. Untreated sleep apnea is a risk factor for shortened lifespan and earlier than necessary death.

Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea

Most patients see a physician who specializes in sleep disorders and may spend the night in a sleep clinic where the staff observes and documents the sleep pattern to be able to recommend proper treatment.

Science-Based Medicine shows a diagram of both a blocked and an unblocked airway. They note the following symptoms:

  • Bruxism (grinding of the teeth)
  • Chronic insomnia
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Frequent unwanted falling asleep in the daytime
  • Not feeling refreshed after sleeping
  • Snoring loudly
  • Suddenly waking during sleep, while gasping for air or choking

Treatment of Sleep Apnea

There are three choices in the treatment of sleep apnea, which are:

  1. Special Dental Appliance – Upon referral by a sleep disorder physician, the person sees a dental specialist who creates a special dental appliance to wear during the night. These appliances are mouth guards, similar to the kind worn by football players. They have a design that keeps the jaw forward and the mouth in a position that creates an unblocked airway, which remains open all night.
  2. CPAP Machine – Using Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) equipment during the night. A CPAP machine creates gentle air pressure that is delivered through a facemask, worn by a patient during the night. This air pressure keeps the airway open.
  3. Surgery – In some cases, a doctor recommends surgery. There are various surgical procedures noted by the American Sleep Apnea Association, which include nasal procedures, removing part of the soft palate in the back of the mouth or inserting implants (Pillar procedure), and/or removing a portion of the pharynx. Hyoid suspension is another surgical procedure where a small bone in the neck is repositioned by attaching it to the jaw and moving it forward to expand the airway.

All surgical procedures have some risks associated with them and potential undesirable side effects.

Even though a CPAP machine is the most commonly prescribed solution offered by medical doctors, Dentistry IQ reports that use of a CPAP machine is not well-tolerated by between 60% to 83% of the patients.

WebMD reports the undesirable side effects of using a CPAP machine include:

  • Discomfort while wearing the facemask (feeling confined or claustrophobic)
  • Dryness and soreness in the mouth
  • Having a runny nose or sinusitis
  • Irritation and skin sores on the bridge of the nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nosebleeds
  • Pain in the chest
  • Stomach discomforting and bloating from swallowing air

Most patients prefer a dental appliance to a CPAP machine or surgery. A dental appliance is more comfortable to wear than a facemask used with a CPAP machine. It is easier to turn in bed without a connection to a machine. A dental appliance is easy to take along anywhere, simple to clean, and can be used comfortably for a lifetime.

According to the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, the FDA approved more than one hundred different styles of dental appliances to treat sleep apnea. When a sleep disorder doctor recommends a dental appliance, they write a prescription for it, and then a qualified dentist creates the dental appliance. The dentist gives instructions to the patient about its use, how to clean it, and care for it. Because sleep apnea is a medical condition, many health insurance policies cover the costs of a dental appliance.

Advancements in the FDA-approved dental appliances to treat sleep apnea, offer significantly better alternatives to using a CPAP machine for life or undergoing the dangers of corrective surgery.