THE HARR I S H E R A L D
DREAMING OF A LIFE WITHOUT SLEEP APNEA
Troubleshooting Solutions to the Dangerous Affliction
In last month’s edition, I talked about my younger years and how important my parents are to me. We all have people in our lives (hopefully) who have really made a difference. Whether they are relatives, coaches, or older friends, mentors demonstrate character and instill admirable values in us. For me, this person was my father. Whenever I think of him, I wish my children and I could have spent more time with him before he passed. This came to mind recently when I was thinking about the importance of a good night’s sleep. A lot of us know people who, like my dad, could snore the paint off the ceiling. Back when I was younger, snoring didn’t get a lot of attention in regard to health; it was nothing more than a nuisance for those sleeping in the same room. Many didn’t recognize it as a sign of sleep apnea or how it could influence health. The good news is that in recent years, the American Dental Association has become more aware of the role dentists have in the treatment of Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB). I am proud to announce that I am now screening for signs of sleep apnea just as I have been screening for signs of oral cancer and other conditions all these years. I’m sure some of you may be wondering what sleep apnea is. It boils down to pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during your sleep cycle. Each pause can last a few seconds or a few minutes and happen repeatedly throughout the night. Most commonly, the condition is accompanied with loud snoring. While the snoring is paused, there may be a choking or snorting sound as breathing resumes. Because the disorder disrupts normal sleep, one of the major symptoms is sleepiness during day. However, the effects may be much more serious and can range from hyperactivity in children to increased risk of hypertension, strokes, or heart attacks in adults. It’s no laughing matter. Every time your airway is blocked or partially blocked, your heart rate and breathing increase until your brain wakes you up. These episodes of irregular brain activity and breathing patterns can cause dangerous decreases in blood oxygen levels, robbing your brain and vital organs of the oxygen they need to repair themselves. Over time, this recurring lack of oxygen manifests as a decline in health and quality of life. The most common cause of sleep apnea is upper airway obstruction commonly seen in overweight individuals. These obstructions are caused by the relaxation
of upper airway muscles when you drift into a deep sleep, resulting in the back of the tongue starting to close your airway. Some people are more prone to an upper airway obstruction because they may have inherently narrow airways, which means even a thin person can be affected. As we age, our airways tend to get floppier and more likely to collapse if we’re heavyset. That means you need to be proactive if you’re going to stop this problem before it escalates any further. In order to test whether or not you’re being affected by sleep apnea, you need to see a registered physician. The doctor may then have you do an in-home or in-office sleep test that will let you know what level of sleep apnea you’re being affected by. The good news is that treatment is more accessible than ever. Some of the more common treatments prescribed are A CPAP machine, throat surgery, or an oral appliance. That’s where we come in. A dentist who’s trained in sleep dentistry can customize the many different types and designs of oral appliances to fit your specific medical needs. My aim is to create an oral appliance that will minimize any possible side effects that can occur and maximize your time spent getting a good night’s rest. Don’t wait any longer. If you think you’re suffering from sleep apnea, it’s time to get you back on track with quality sleep in the sack — the person sleeping next to you at night will thank you later. Now, if I could figure out how to make an oral appliance for my 110-pound puppy that likes to sleep in the bed with us, I’d have it made.
- John Harris, DDS
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