You have by now probably heard of sleep apnea, since it is increasingly recognized as a serious health problem. An apnea is a short pause in breath while sleeping, which could last for a few seconds or a few minutes, with dangerous consequences because of the lack of oxygen (these can occur up to a hundred times per hour). The pauses cause the individual to start to wake up, promoted by the brain to take a deep breath, but most who have sleep apnea do not remember this happening when they get up in the morning.
Often, it is a partner who calls attention to the most common symptoms and causes: which are frequent and loud snoring. This is usually due to an obstruction of the airway by either a large tongue or excess tissue around the throat that becomes relaxed, causing the vibration. This is known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and is the type that most patients have (a small percentage have Central Sleep Apnea, when the brain fails to alert the lungs to keep breathing, which can be treated with medication).
It might seem surprising that a dentist like Dr. Marine should specialize in a sleeping disorder, but her training makes her very familiar with health problems related to the mouth. She can do a full examination to see whether a blockage is likely causing the snoring (although not all snoring is due to OSA).
Dr. Marine will also want to know whether the patient has other common symptoms:
- On awakening, does he or she have a sore throat from so much mouth breathing (and this can also cause a feeling that there is cotton in the mouth)?
- Are morning migraines or other headaches during the day experienced?
- Even after eight hours “asleep” is there still severe tiredness?
- Is there difficulty focusing or remembering things at work?
- Is there anxiety, depression, and irritability unrelated to life circumstances?
- Is acid reflux frequent?
Other factors that need to be discussed because they increase the risk for OSA:
- Being very overweight.
- Taking sedatives before going to bed.
- Drinking alcohol before sleeping.
- Erectile dysfunction.
- Being 50-70, since 17% of men and 9% of women in this age bracket have sleep apnea (for ages 30-39, 10% of men and 3% of women).
The good news is that if you seem likely to be suffering from OSA, Dr. Marine can create a customized mouthguard that can be worn at night to keep the airway open. Visit Pacific Dental Care for this and other gentle dentistry procedures.
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