Individuals with sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly while they sleep; in severe cases, this may occur up to 30 times an hour. Are you at risk? The condition affects as many as 22 million adults in the US, estimates The American Sleep Apnea Association, but many of these sufferers have not received a diagnosis. Severe health problems can result from untreated sleep apnea. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Sleep apnea can affect children.

An estimate from the American Sleep Apnea Association puts the percentage of US children with sleep apnea at no more than 4 percent. Diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea in children is just as important as it is for adults. In children, this condition is linked to other conditions such as ADHD, bed-wetting, learning difficulties, and childhood obesity.

2. Untreated sleep apnea in adults presents a higher risk of major health issues.

Snoring and mouth breathing are common among sleep apnea sufferers who sleep deeply on their backs. Nasal congestion, a high palate, and the tongue falling backward while a sufferer sleeps all play a part in sleep apnea. In turn, this increases raises the risk of depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, diabetes, heart attack, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and weight gain. In extreme cases, suffocation is also a risk.

3. Age, ethnicity, smoking, and alcohol use are all sleep apnea risk factors.

The risk of sleep apnea increases beginning at age 40. Sleep apnea is more common in African-Americans, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders; and frequent smoking and alcohol use also contribute to greater risk. An individual’s physical features also figure into risk factors for this condition: neck size (17 inches or more for men, and 16 inches or more for women); excess body weight; recessed chin; undersized jaw or large overbite; and an undersized or compromised upper airway (large tongue, tonsils or uvula) can all contribute to sleep apnea.

4. Dentists can screen patients’ airways painlessly and non-invasively to determine whether a sleep study is needed.

Specially trained dentists can use the latest technology to perform an airway evaluation. A cone beam computer tomography (CBCT) unit helps dentists create 3D images of a patient’s airway in order to measure its diameter. The imaging process takes only a few minutes, and is non-invasive, painless, and safe. When results indicate that further screening is needed, dentists then make appropriate referrals to sleep study specialists, who can formally determine a diagnosis of sleep apnea.

5. Dental treatment options exist for sleep apnea patients.

For many sleep apnea sufferers, dentists with special training can provide oral appliance therapy, in which patients wear custom-fitted dental devices while they sleep. In many cases, this type of treatment can help patients to avoid the need for surgery and/or CPAP machines by working to gradually remodel an undersized airway through expanding the oral cavity and widening the dental arches. Over time, this can help to reduce a patient’s apneic episodes, and ultimately improve his or her sleep breathing and quality of life.

We are skilled and experienced in treating sleep breathing disorders such as snoring and sleep apnea. If you think you may have sleep apnea and believe you may need to seek treatment, see our Snoring and Sleep Apnea page to take a self-assessment and to learn more details. We are here to help!

References
Children’s Sleep Apnea. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.sleepapnea.org/treat/childrens-sleep-apnea/
Sleep Apnea. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-apnea/sleep-apnea