What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening sleep disorder characterized by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. Sensing this imbalance, the brain sends a message to the body, telling it to wake up to restart the breathing process. People with sleep apnea will partially awake as they struggle to breathe, and this is often accompanied by loud snoring or choking sensations. Because people with sleep apnea are not always completely awake during the episodes, they are often unaware they have a sleeping disorder and it can remain undiagnosed. There are two main types of this disorder; central sleep apnea which occurs when the brain fails to send important signals to the breathing muscles, and obstructive sleep apnea which occurs when air cannot flow through the nose or mouth even though the body is still trying to breathe. Obstructive sleep apnea is far more prevalent and easily treatable by the dentist.

Common signs of obstructive sleep apnea can include severe early morning headaches, sleepiness in the daytime, and insomnia. Fortunately, the dentist is equipped with the necessary technology and expertise to treat sleep apnea in several different ways. It is very important to seek medical attention if sleep apnea is suspected. A sufferer can completely stop numerous times per hour, and this can quickly turn into a deadly situation. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissue lying at the back of the patient’s throat collapses into the airway. The tongue then falls towards the back of the throat which tightens the blockage and prevents oxygen from entering the lungs. The problem worsens when the chest region, diaphragm, and abdomen fight for air. The efforts they make to obtain vital oxygen only cause a further tightening of the blockage. The patient must arouse from deep sleep to tense the tongue and remove the soft tissue from the airway.

If you feel you may be struggling with sleep apnea, give us a call at our Denham Springs office today.

How We Do It.

We recommend patients to get a panoramic x-ray scan of their entire head every 3-5 years. This can be done at your routine cleanings. In a standing up position, the dentist is able to see the airway. If the air way seems to be narrow, your hygienist or doctor may ask questions about your sleep schedule, your breathing, snoring or the amount of times you wake up during the night. In many cases, if a patient has a narrow air way and suffers from sleep apnea, a digital scan may be taken to fabricate an appliance to sleep in that pulls the jaw forward to open the air way. The digital impression is sent to the lab to create a night guard. The guard has bands on the side to help protrude the jaw forward. They may be changed multiple times to get the right fit and comfort for the patient.

Hear from our patients!