Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a disruption in your breathing cycle while you are sleeping and could be fatal. A dentist can help by providing an oral appliance to wear at night to help open the airway to allow for normal breathing.

What is sleep apnea?

Dr. John Vitale: In simple terms, sleep apnea is a starting and stopping of your breathing cycle while you’re sleeping, and it can be quite dangerous. It’s repeatedly stopping and starting while you’re sleeping, so sometimes you choke, and it’s not a very good situation. It really isn’t. It could be fatal in some instances.

How do you determine if someone is suffering from sleep apnea?

Dr. John Vitale: Well, the people who suffer from sleep apnea for the most part are obese people. Generally, it’s not the person themselves who comes to the conclusion that they have sleep apnea. For married people, it’s generally the mate who tells you you’re snoring or you’re choking during the night. That’s how generally you’re brought to a dental office, or you’re brought to a sleep apnea specialist to begin with. What you do is, you go for a series of tests in sleep clinics, and they determine if you do have sleep apnea, or how much, how difficult, or how involved it is.

What are some causes of sleep apnea? Are there any risk factors people may have that make them more susceptible to it?

Dr. John Vitale: Yeah. The main cause of sleep apnea in adults is obesity. That’s the main cause. Another cause of it is a relaxation of your muscles in your throat, that create what we call an obstructive sleep apnea.

How can dentists help people with sleep apnea? Can you describe some of the treatment methods dentists can prescribe?

Dr. John Vitale: Well in cases where sleep apnea is slight or moderate, the dental profession has developed appliances that people wear rather than the CPAP machine that you breathe through, which is somewhat burdensome. So again, in moderate and not so severe cases, we have these appliances that we place in peoples’ mouths. We show them how to use them, and then they place it in their mouth at night before they go to sleep, and they sleep with them, and take them out the following morning when they wake.

What risk factors or what risks do people face if sleep apnea goes untreated?

Dr. John Vitale: Well, you can choke in your sleep, and you can die. You can get a heart attack from your breathing cycle stopping, so it does present some dangerous scenarios when it gets to the point where it’s more than moderate, where it’s severe.

Is it possible to cure sleep apnea by using a device, or is this a permanent condition?

Dr. John Vitale: Well in cases of obesity, yes if you lost enough weight, that would help tremendously, and bring you down to maybe slight sleep apnea or all eliminated completely. But with some people, it depends how long it’s gone undiagnosed for instance, because there are things like relaxation of your throat muscles and stuff, which once you develop that, you really can’t get them strong enough again, because it’s a one-way street with something like that. But yes, you can be cured in some instances.

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