What is sleep apnea?

The word “apnea” literally means “no breathing”. The term “sleep apnea” refers to pauses of 10 to 30 seconds in breathing during sleep which disturb the normal sleep cycle.

Sleep specialists categorize sleep apnea by the number of events, or pauses between breathing, that occurs per hour.

  • Mild sleep apnea: 5 – 15 events per hour
  • Moderate sleep apnea: 15 – 30 events per hour
  • Severe sleep apnea: over 30 events per hour

Other important factors in determining the severity of sleep apnea include:

  •  How sleepy you feel
  •  How low the oxygen level dips
  •  How long the oxygen level stays below 90
  •  Other medical conditions you may have, such as heart disease

How common is sleep apnea?

According to the Lung Association of Canada, 26% of adults have a high risk of having or developing sleep apnea and 2 – 3% of children are likely to have sleep apnea.

What are the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea?

The two main symptoms are:

  •  Excessive daytime sleepiness that cannot be explained
  •  Snoring with pauses in breathing

Other frequent symptoms include:

  •  High blood pressure
  •  Irritability
  •  Gasping or choking during sleep
  •  Fatigue
  •  Depression
  •  Lack of concentration
  •  Morning headaches
  •  Memory loss
  •  Impotence

What are the risk factors that increase the likelihood that you will develop sleep apnea?

  •  Obesity
  •  Large, thick neck (greater than 17 inches for men, greater than 16 inches for women)
  •  Family history of sleep apnea
  •  Male
  •  Older than 40 years of age
  •  Recessed chin or large tonsils

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

Since excessive daytime sleepiness is one of the main signs and symptoms of sleep apnea, there is a test, called the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, you can do at home to measure your level of daytime sleepiness. This test could indicate that a medical test should be requested through your doctor. The medical test for sleep apnea is conducted in a sleep laboratory or through the use of a portable monitor.

How is sleep apnea treated?

The best-known treatment for sleep apnea is called continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP. CPAP is a machine that delivers a constant flow of air through tubing and a mask to the airway. The pressure of the airflow prevents the collapse of the airway and eliminates sleep apnea events. CPAP is not a cure for sleep apnea, however, and only works as long as it is used.

One of the common complaints of CPAP is discomfort. Since the machine requires a mask and tubing, sleep apnea patients can experience difficulty getting comfortable while wearing it.

If diagnosed with severe sleep apnea by a medical doctor, the patient is required to try the CPAP device for at least one month. This is because it is considered the best treatment option.

In cases of mild to moderate sleep apnea, however, the patient can request an alternate treatment for sleep apnea. Now except for severe Apnea patients, we can prescribe Dental appliances instead of CPAP machines.

Alternate treatments for sleep apnea include:

  •  Lifestyle
  •  Dental appliances
  •  Surgery

Lifestyle adjustments usually refer to people with mild forms of sleep apnea. Alternatives to CPAP for people falling into this category could include weight loss, avoiding alcohol and sedatives, or shifting sleep positions.

Surgery may be an option to reduce or eliminate sleep apnea. This, however, is based on the specific cause of the airway obstruction. Typically an ENT specialist will examine the patient’s nose, mouth and throat to pinpoint the problem.

How do dental appliances and devices treat sleep apnea?

Dental apnea appliances, also known as oral appliances, may be suggested by a patient’s doctor to treat mild or moderate sleep apnea. Dental apnea devices to treat sleep apnea are worn at night and work by holding the tongue and jaw in a forward position.

There are many different types of dental apnea appliances for sleep apnea available. If a dental apnea device or appliance is recommended by your doctor, it’s best to consult with your dentist at Downtown Nanaimo Dental Group in regard to the ideal type of apnea sleep treatment.

How does sleep apnea differ from snoring?

Snoring is caused by a reduced flow of air while sleeping, whereas in the case of sleep apnea breathing temporarily stops for a period of time.

Read more about snoring in an article written by Dr. Larry Hill of Downtown Nanaimo Dental Group.

Can snoring be treated by a dental appliance?

Yes. Dental appliances can successfully replace CPAP machines (except in the most severe cases).
If snoring is an issue, a sleep specialist will test you to determine whether or not sleep apnea is occurring. Dental sleep appliances can be used to treat snoring and are effective in the same way as with sleep apnea cases. The dental appliance is used to keep the jaw forward and reduce the partially blocked airway that makes the sound of snoring.

Downtown Nanaimo Dental Group in Nanaimo, BC,  is proud to offer dental appliances and apnea appliances as an alternative to CPAP to treat sleep apnea as well as snoring and welcomes you to make an appointment for a consultation.