According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, sleep apnea is a condition that currently affects an estimated 22 million Americans. During sleep apnea, individuals stop breathing repeatedly, and this interruption can deprive the body of sufficient oxygen. Most sleep apnea sufferers experience obstructive sleep apnea, which is a condition that inhibits a person’s breathing due to an airway blockage caused by soft tissue catching in the throat during sleep. The other type of sleep apnea, known as central sleep apnea, results from a disconnect between the brain and the breathing muscles it triggers. Sleep apnea is often exhibited through loud snoring, waking up choking or gasping, sore throats, daytime sleepiness, morning headaches and restlessness.
Sleep apnea is common among all demographic groups, and is particularly prominent in overweight men over age 40 as well as those with family histories of the condition, large tonsils, or nasal obstruction. Sleep apnea can cause serious health complications, including high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, depression, heart failure, and headaches, in addition to inhibiting a person’s everyday activities at home, school and work. Sleep apnea treatments can range from moderate lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, smoking cessation, and changing sleeping positions, to using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machine or dental device during sleep, or undergoing surgery. CPAP machines produce continuous air through the nose, while BiPAP machines alternate airflow when a person breathes in and out. Your dentist can provide devices to assist with airway opening, and patients with deviated septums, soft-tissue blocking the airway, and obstructive facial and throat issues may be candidates for surgeries to address these issues in order to facilitate better breathing during sleep.