What is Sleep Apnea?

Etymology: Gk, a + pnein, not to breathe

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that occurs when an individual’s breathing repeatedly pauses or stops, then restarts again during sleep. Common symptoms for apnea sufferers are daytime sleepiness and regular, heavy, loud snoring. Snoring is an indicator, but not everyone who has sleep apnea snores. Normal snoring will not affect you as severely as snoring from sleep apnea. The best way to know is to complete a sleep study. We offer a convenient home sleep test or an overnight sleep study (PSG).

  • *Over 40 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder and 20 million suffer from OSA.
  • 10% of women and 24% of men suffer from sleep disordered breathing.
  • 93% of women and 82% of men with mild to severe OSA remain undiagnosed.
  • Sleep disordered breathing is as widespread as diabetes or asthma.

*Young et al. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2002; 165:1217-1239.

Sleep Apnea Facts: Key Messages on Dental Sleep Medicine*

  • Snoring can be annoying and it may also be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, a disease that occurs when the tongue and soft palate collapse onto the back of the throat, leading to partial or complete reductions in breathing during sleep. Most pauses last between 10 and 30 seconds, but some may persist for one minute or longer. The brain responds to the lack of oxygen by alerting the body, causing a brief arousal from sleep that restores normal breathing. This pattern can occur hundreds of times a night, resulting in a fragmented quality of sleep.
  • Untreated sleep apnea can increase a person’s risk for excessive daytime sleepiness, driving accidents, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, depression, and diabetes.
  • Many people with sleep apnea snore loudly and frequently, with periods of silence when airflow is reduced or blocked. They then make choking, snorting or gasping sounds when their airway reopens.
  • Eighteen million Americans, about four percent of men and two percent of women, have obstructive sleep apnea. 80 to 90% of these people are undiagnosed and untreated.
  • A common indicator of sleep apnea is the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), which is an average that represents the combined number of full and partial pauses in breath that occur per hour of sleep. The higher a person’s AHI, the more severe their apnea.
  • Oral appliance therapy (OAT) is a safe and effective alternative to CPAP. OAT is indicated for mild to moderate OSA patients if they prefer it to CPAP, cannot tolerate CPAP, or are unable to use positional therapy or weight loss to control their apnea. Oral appliances are also recommended for severe OSA patients if they cannot tolerate CPAP.
  • Oral appliance therapy involves the selection, fitting, and use of a specially designed oral device worn during sleep to maintain an open, unobstructed airway by positioning the lower jaw and tongue forward. Oral appliances look like mouth guards and are non-invasive.

* Source: American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, Sleep Apnea Facts: Key Messages on Dental Sleep Medicine (2010). Retrieved October 15, 2012 from http://www.aadsm.org/

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