By Dr. Rich Gilbert
The word apnea literally means without breath. During sleep, the muscles and tissues of the upper airway can collapse and narrow or totally block the opening in the throat for air. The narrowing of the upper airway can produce sound – snoring. However, when the upper airway becomes completely obstructed breathing stops. This condition is called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and the resulting oxygen deprivation is life threatening!
Snoring vs. Sleep Apnea
Snoring is generally considered a mild condition resulting in limited daytime symptoms. Disruption to the sleep of the snorer’s bed partner is the most common and irritating side effect.
OSA is a much more severe, life-threatening, condition in which the sufferer stops breathing repeatedly throughout the night. As a result, oxygen saturation levels in the bloodstream often drop to dangerous levels. Sleep patterns are disrupted because the body must fight to breathe and frequently arouse the sufferer from sleep. Besides fatigue there are much more grave health consequences associated with OSA that you should be aware of so that you understand the necessity of proper OSA treatment.
Seriousness of OSA
Having Obstructive Sleep Apnea means that you actually stop breathing multiple times during the night. The lack of oxygen to your brain jolts your body awake briefly so you can take the necessary breath and then fall back to sleep. This apneic episode has very serious health ramifications. Your brain, heart and other organs are being oxygen starved repeatedly throughout the night, usually between 5-15 times per hour! Sleep patterns like this mean you’re limiting rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the essential sleep stage that helps recharge your body’s internal battery. The next day, your body compensates for its lack of rest, resulting in fatigue and poor productivity. During the day your concentration is easily broken and you suffer from daytime sleepiness and irritability.
You may realize that your productivity suffers at work, but what you may not realize is what’s going on inside your body. Specifically, when you stop breathing your body experiences a drastic drop in oxygen saturation, from 97% to as low as 60%. This can lead to significant health problems and even death.
Here’s a list of the most common concerns that untreated sleep apnea can cause:
Car Accidents – a deadly side effect of daytime sleepiness, people with untreated OSA are 5 times more likely to fall asleep behind the wheel.
Heart Disease/Stroke – the low oxygen levels caused by obstructed sleep apnea stress the body, making suffers of OSA more likely to have a heart attack or die in the middle of the night. The oxygen disruption makes it hard for your brain to regulate the flow of blood to arteries and to the brain itself.
High Blood Pressure – frequent awakenings during the night cause hormonal systems to become hyperactive, which can result in a dangerous elevation in blood pressure.
Weight Gain – obstructive sleep apnea goes hand-in-hand with obesity because fatty deposits in the neck block adequate breathing during sleep increasing your risk of OSA. In addition, the lack of oxygen and sleep deprivation causes the endocrine system to increase production of several hormones. Specifically, the hormone Cortisol which increases your appetite and the hormone Ghrelin which increases cravings for carbohydrates and sweets. Both of which contribute to weight gain. Thus resulting in a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and weight increase.
Type 2 Diabetes – since Type 2 Diabetes is often brought on by obesity, up to 80% of diabetics also suffer from some form of obstructed sleep apnea. Research shows that sleep deprivation can be a contributing factor to insulin resistance, which is the body’s early warning system indicating susceptibility to Type 2 Diabetes.
Other serious health concerns that can be linked to OSA: depression, gastric reflux, insomnia, muscle pain, loss of short term memory, fibromyalgia, cardiac arrhythmia, intellectual deterioration, inefficient metabolism, severe anxiety, memory and concentration impairment, mood swings, and impotence.
Although OSA can create severe health impairments – treatment can prevent most of these risks. It is even possible to cut down on blood pressure medication because getting adequate rest can lower blood pressure. Treatment is crucial. Often times that means CPAP therapy, a machine that sits beside your night table and applies positive airway pressure to the respiratory system to prevent apnea episodes. CPAP therapy has proven to be very effective in the treatment of OSA when used as prescribed. However, due to the invasive and obtrusive nature of CPAP therapy patient compliance is extremely poor. As a result, industry leaders now accept dental appliance therapy as standard practice.
In 2006, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommended that oral appliances be used as a first line of treatment for mild to moderate OSA. FDA approved oral appliances used to treat OSA work by advancing the mandible, thus holding the jaw in a forward position. This increases the free space in the back of the throat and prevents upper airway tissues from obstructing and causing an apnea event.
Screening for OSA at the Dentist Office
Attentive dentists are in a perfect position to screen for OSA because they routinely visualize their patients’ upper airway, which may show an anatomical predisposition for obstruction. Additionally, dentists are privy to subjective signs and symptoms of OSA and can screen as part of medical history updates.
Often times, patients who believe they “snore” may in fact actually suffer from the more serious condition of OSA. If you or your bed partner suffers from symptoms of OSA, please call us to learn more about how oral appliances can prevent potentially serious health conditions that occur as a result of sleep apnea.
Dr. Rich Gilbert is well versed in all the different sleep apnea oral appliances available. After a brief consultation, Dr. Gilbert will explain which type of oral appliance will best suit you and why. All of Pelican Landing Dental’s oral appliances are completely custom fabricated from molds of your mouth and are thereby effective and easy to wear. Most find that it typically only takes a few nights to get used to wearing. Soon, you won’t ever want to sleep without it.
SCHEDULE A COMPLIMENTARY CONSULTATION WITH DR. RICH GILBERT. CALL 239-948-2111