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Sleep Sensitivity

Identifying and Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Poor sleep at night caused by a sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea, can severely impact your health and daily life. Approximately 30 million adults in the U.S. suffer from obstructive sleep apnea — a disease in which you stop breathing several times an hour throughout the night. This serious condition should not be left untreated.

Signs of obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused when muscles relax during sleep, resulting in soft tissue collapsing and blocking the airway. Some common signs of obstructive sleep apnea include snoring, gasping or choking sounds during sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness.

If you or a loved one have these symptoms, it’s likely that sleep apnea is the culprit. It’s important to seek treatment for this disease as untreated sleep apnea can lead to additional health complications such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and stroke. There are fine treatment options available. A commonly prescribed treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which involves wearing a face mask connected to an air compressor and humidifier at night while you sleep. A significant number of sleep apnea patients are unable to comply with or tolerate CPAP, leaving many untreated and in need of another option.

Oral appliance therapy

An effective alternative treatment is oral appliance therapy. This can be provided by a dentist who is qualified and experienced in dental sleep medicine. Oral appliance therapy uses a mouth guard-like device worn while sleeping that helps to keep the airway open by supporting the jaw in a forward position. Sleep apnea patients who use oral appliance therapy under the care of an experienced dentist find that the device is comfortable, easy to wear and care for and convenient for travel.

To seek treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, you will first need to schedule an appointment with a board-certified sleep physician for an overnight sleep test. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, your doctor will work with you to choose the best treatment option. If you decide to wear a custom-fitted oral appliance, your doctor can refer you to an experienced dentist.

Dr. Harold A. Smith, President, American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, [email protected]

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