Obstructive Sleep Apnea

It’s June and time to celebrate Dad’s and all the special men in our lives, so I thought I’d touch on a disorder that affects 15 – 30% of males in North America – Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). I want to be very clear that OSA is not a condition that is limited to males; it is present in 10 – 15% of females in North America and is also prevalent in children but because of the higher prevalence in males, I thought I’d touch on it this month.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most common sleep related breathing disorder. With this type of apnea (a temporary cessation of breathing) the soft tissues of the posterior airway collapse blocking the flow of air to the lungs and the rest of the body. As you can imagine, lack of air and therefore oxygen, is NOT good. OSA is a serious health condition. When the air flow is cut off, the lack of oxygen alerts the brain of a crisis, and the brain produces an arousal from sleep that opens the airway. This arousal can be so minor that many times the patients don’t remember it. After a few deep breaths, they are back asleep, and the pattern repeats itself many times over during the night. The frequency and duration of the apneas determines the severity of the condition.

Some common health risks associated with OSA are hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, diabetes, cancer, mental health and Alzheimer’s disease, impaired cognitive function, fatigue and accidents, and decreased immunity. Did you know that lack of sleep was found to produce a greater degree of driving impairment than alcohol intoxication?

So how do you know if you, or a loved one, has the condition? Some common signs and symptoms include snoring, morning headaches, excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating during the day, waking frequently to go to the bathroom, waking feeling unrefreshed, waking with dry mouth, observed episodes of stopped breathing or gasping for breath during sleep by a bed partner and bruxism (grinding your teeth). Common risk factors include excess weight, age, narrow airway, chronic nasal congestion, smoking,

You may be asking yourself what this has to do with oral health. OSA can be treated in several different ways. CPAP is a machine that forces air into the airway; the pressure of the air keeps the airway open. As a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, I provide a common and less obtrusive treatment called Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT). We can make an appliance to be worn during sleep that moves the lower jaw forward maintaining an open airway. There are other treatment options, including surgery in some cases. Your health care providers can test you for OSA and help you decide which treatment option is best for you. More information can be found at www.aadsm.org.

Happy Father’s Day!

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