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Sleep Apnea

Around twelve million Americans suffer from sleep apnea—a common condition characterized by periodic, temporary interruptions of the breath while sleeping. The length of these interruptions varies from case to case, and can range from a few seconds to a minute or longer. If you or a loved one snores loudly, frequently wakes up breathless, or feels constantly fatigued even after eight hours of rest, sleep apnea may be the cause. In fact, many of the patients who have been successfully treated with help from our San Diego dentists for sleep apnea were unaware they were being impacted by the condition.  Dr. Cathy Santone and Dr. Megan Dietz can help evaluate your symptoms and start you on a path towards healthier sleep.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a pause or cessation in your breathing as you sleep. For some people who suffer from this condition, these interruptions may occur up to 30 times per hour. When you temporarily stop breathing, your brain registers a lack of oxygen and wakes you up momentarily, causing your breathing to resume normally. Since you are awoken for such a brief period of time after these pauses, most people do not remember the interruptions. As a result, the feeling of fatigue after a full night’s sleep may seem confusing. In addition, many people with sleep apnea suffer from extreme drowsiness or headaches during their waking hours.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

There is no singular pattern of symptoms for sleep apnea patients. As a result, if you or a loved one suffers from any combination of the following, Dr. Santone and Dr. Dietz recommend a thorough evaluation by an experienced professional. Signs of this common condition may include:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea vs. Central Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea typically manifests in one of two ways: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or central sleep apnea (CSA). When you have obstructive sleep apnea, the soft tissues within the throat temporarily collapse, which in turn blocks airflow. When you have central sleep apnea, the brain occasionally fails to send the proper signals to the muscles associated with breathing. Some patients may actually suffer from both types of sleep apnea simultaneously.

Who is Affected by Sleep Apnea?

Though sleep apnea is considered a common condition that affects millions of Americans, there are certain individuals who have a greater risk of developing sleep apnea. Men seem more prone to developing sleep apnea than women, and all adults over the age of 40 are more susceptible. Both men and women who smoke, drink, use certain medications, or have high blood pressure may also be at a greater risk. If you or your family has a history of obesity, stroke, brain tumors, heart disorders, or neuromuscular complications, you may also have an increased chance of developing sleep apnea.

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

In order to obtain a formal sleep apnea diagnosis, patients will need to coordinate with their primary physician or a qualified medical sleep specialist. That said, your dentist is often in an ideal position to notice the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea early, making them a key part of the diagnostic process for many patients. As experts in oral anatomy, they can often identify irregularities or other factors that can contribute to an increased risk of airway obstruction, such as large tonsils, a narrow airway, a large tongue, tooth wear and other soft tissue signs of teeth clenching or grinding, or a narrow palate. Drs. Santone and Dietz incorporate a preliminary sleep apnea screening into every new patient examination. Our practice also owns an ambulatory screening device that we can send home with patients who suspect they may have sleep apnea. After reviewing the results of the at-home test, we can help determine the likelihood that a patient is experiencing sleep apnea, at which point they should consult with a medical doctor.

What are the Risks of Sleep Apnea?

An episode of sleep apnea may occur as an isolated incident. However, repeated or chronic episodes can be cause for concern. When left untreated, sleep apnea may contribute to high blood pressure and increase the likelihood of heart failure or stroke. Since the condition interrupts your sleep and can prevent you from fully refreshing both your mind and body, sleep apnea often impacts a person’s performance in school or at work. Additionally, depression and sexual dysfunction are common in patients who suffer from untreated sleep apnea. It is especially important to tell your physician if you believe you may have sleep apnea, as the condition poses added risks for patients undergoing surgery or anesthesia.

What are My Sleep Apnea Treatment Options?

Depending upon your evaluation and the severity of your condition, there are many possible treatment methods for sleep apnea. Many of these treatment methods involve changes in your diet, beginning with more rigorous exercise habits or quitting smoking. For some patients, sleeping on their side rather than on their back can help reduce the symptoms. Traditionally, a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine worn nightly was the treatment of choice for OSA. That said, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recognized that the CPAP is not tolerated by many patients due to work travel, the machine’s noise, as well as an uncomfortable face mask. Therefore, the organization studied with dental professionals to provide equally effective alternatives. Customized oral appliances, fabricated by a trained dentist, can help keep your airway open, relaxed, and clear while you sleep. In rare and severe cases, surgery may be recommended.

What If I Think a Loved One is Suffering From Sleep Apnea?

Very often, our patients at Encinitas Cosmetic Dentistry do not realize they suffer from sleep apnea. Frequently, their partners or family members are the ones who notice these interruptions in sleep. If you suspect a loved one may have sleep apnea, please contact us today. One of our dentists can either provide you with an at-home ambulatory screening device or direct you towards resources regarding how to schedule a formal sleep study. For those who are diagnosed with sleep apnea, Dr. Santone or Dr. Dietz can develop a custom-tailored treatment plan to help alleviate or eliminate symptoms and greatly improve overall quality of life.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

While there are different types of sleep apnea with varying causes, the condition is generally a result of reduced airflow to the brain due to irregular breathing patterns. In most cases, this is caused by blockages in the nasal and oral passageways, making it difficult for oxygen to travel.

When we sleep, the muscles and oral tissues of the nose and throat tend to relax. Obstructive sleep apnea develops as a result of the over-relaxation or collapse of the soft tissues in the nose and throat, reducing the size of an individual’s airway and causing interrupted and/or labored breathing. Although this is the most common form of sleep apnea, some patients experience decreased airflow because the brain fails to send the right signals to the muscles that control breathing— this is known as central sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea in Children

Similar to sleep apnea in adults, pediatric sleep apnea is usually caused by obstructions in a child’s airway preventing a clear passage from which oxygen can flow. Sleep apnea is particularly common in children due to anatomical factors like an under- or over-developed jaw, enlarged tonsils and adenoids, an enlarged tongue and small jaw, or a larger surface area around the throat as a result of obesity. In addition to the frequent pauses in breath and snoring characteristic of sleep apnea, children affected by the condition often experience other symptoms, such as bedwetting, tiredness throughout the day, behavioral problems, sleepwalking, and hyperactivity. Consequently, pediatric sleep apnea involves many of the serious health risks associated with sleep apnea in adults. What’s more, the condition is frequently misdiagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), making it essential to seek examination and treatment as soon as you suspect your child is suffering from sleep apnea.

Why Choose Encinitas Cosmetic Dentistry for Sleep Apnea Treatment?

Dr. Cathy Santone and Dr. Megan Dietz have experience successfully treating the various forms of sleep apnea using personalized techniques designed to address the underlying cause(s) of the condition, and alleviate its associated symptoms. Our dentists are well-versed in evaluating whether your oral structures are contributing to your sleep apnea, and they incorporate sleep apnea screenings into all new patient exams. After listening thoroughly to your concerns and performing a comprehensive evaluation, Dr. Santone or Dr. Dietz can develop a custom treatment plan tailored to your unique needs and suggest the best course of action to foster normal breathing patterns, improve your daytime symptoms, minimize the incidence of snoring, and achieve a healthy night’s sleep.

For more information on screening for airway obstruction, snoring, or sleep apnea, please contact Encinitas Cosmetic Dentistry today.