Sleep apnea is an under-diagnosed condition that prevents adults and children alike from getting the rest they deserve. Symptoms of sleep apnea include drowsiness, constant fatigue, depression, feelings of stress, unrefreshing sleep, cognitive impairment, high blood pressure, frequent awakenings, and chronic pain; sleep disordered breathing may or may not be accompanied by snoring.Sleep apnea has also been known to cause nighttime teeth grinding, and increases the body's production of the protein Lectin, which can make it difficult for sleep apnea patients to lose weight. If you, your partner, or another family member has trouble with any of these, it could be a sign of sleep apnea.
Sleep disordered breathing includes a continuum of breathing problems that range from small airway dimensional reduction changes to complete airway obstruction. Sleep apnea literally means lack of airflow when you sleep, which happens when your muscles relax during sleep and your airway collapses. When the airway collapses, air does not flow freely or is obstructed. Even Patients with no snoring and a small decrease of their airway space during sleep have to work harder to breathe while asleep. This extra effort and work to breath during sleep does not allow for restful and deep sleep; the patient may not snore, but still wakes up tired, with daytime sleepiness and excessive fatigue, and other sleep apnea symptoms. This is called Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS); because there is often no snoring, the patient is unaware of their breathing struggles.
Patients with sleep apnea, or total obstruction of the airway, cycle through a pattern of sleeping and waking throughout the night. The cause of the obstruction can vary from case to case, but the result is the same. As airways become obstructed, patients may begin to snore. Then, as airways become blocked completely and the airflow stops, oxygen levels in the blood drop, prompting the brain to send out signals awakening patients. Because patients may not wake up completely, though, many with sleep apnea are unaware of their breathing deficiencies and have not been diagnosed.
The traditional method of treating sleep disordered breathing, or obstructive sleep apnea, involves a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine that holds that airway open with air pressure. But many patients have had difficulty sleeping with air blowing in their nose or mouth. Another successful treatment choice for sleep disordered breathing includes a dental device which holds the airway open. Oral appliance therapy maintains an open airway with this dental device that is similar in appearance to an orthodontic appliance or an athletic guard. Oral appliance therapy is different from a traditional or common night guard however. The night guard protects the teeth during grinding; the sleep apnea appliance holds the jaw slightly forward during sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which is the organization which grants board certification for sleep physicians, recommends oral appliance therapy as a first line treatment for mild and moderate sleep apnea, and for those who cannot tolerate CPAP. These custom-made oral appliances work by repositioning the tongue or lower jaw forward, resulting in clear airways that allow the patient to breathe easily and get the much-needed rest they deserve.
Does someone in your family struggle with sleep apnea? Dr. Sue Ellen Richardson recently achieved the status of Diplomate with the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine, an independent board of examiners composed of highly skilled dentists who treat sleep-related breathing disorders. With her years of experience and training, Dr. Richardson can help Houston-area patientsas well as those living near Bellaire and West University effectively treat sleep apnea and the symptoms that accompany it.