Sleep Apnea Diagnosis

Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening sleep disorder characterized by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep.  The term sleep apnea is derived from the Greek etymology meaning “without breath”.  Breathing pauses can last anywhere from several seconds to minutes, and happen as often as 30 times or more per hour.  Ongoing disrupted breathing causes an imbalance between the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the bloodstream, as not enough carbon dioxide is exiting and not enough oxygen is entering the body.

Sensing this imbalance, the brain sends a message to the body, telling it to wake up to restart the breathing process.  People with sleep apnea will partially awake as they struggle to breathe, and this is often accompanied by loud snoring or choking sensations.  Because people with sleep apnea don’t always completely awake during the episodes, they are often unaware they have a sleeping disorder and it can remain undiagnosed.

There are two main types of this disorder; central sleep apnea which occurs when the brain fails to send important signals to the breathing muscles, and obstructive sleep apnea which occurs when air cannot flow through the nose or mouth even though the body is still trying to breathe.  Obstructive sleep apnea is far more prevalent and easily treatable by the dentist.

Common signs of obstructive sleep apnea can include severe early morning headaches, sleepiness in the daytime, and insomnia. Fortunately, the dentist is equipped with the necessary technology and expertise to treat sleep apnea in several different ways. 

Because of the potentially serious aspects of sleep apnea, and the relative ease of screening, even the smallest symptoms should be evaluated. Evaluation can range from an examination of your airway, to an at home sleep test (HST) or an overnight hospital test called a polysomnogram (PSG). If treatment is required depending on the severity and specific patient preference, therapies can range from a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine to Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT). These appliances are specialized, custom fit “mouth guards” that hold the lower jaw in the optimal position allowing for the maximum amount of airflow. This will help to reduce oxygen limitations. OAT’s are custom made by your dentist under the direction of your physician.

Sleep Solutions Northwest is happy to offer home sleep testing. Screen for sleep apnea from the comfort of your own bed with little out of pocket expense.  


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