Originally published July 19, 2017
Sleep apnea sufferers stop breathing repeatedly during 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 (ASAA), but many of these individuals have not received a diagnosis. Severe health problems can result when the condition is left untreated. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Sleep apnea can affect children.
An estimate from the ASAA puts the percentage of US children with this disorder at no more than 4 percent. Diagnosis and treatment 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 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 the condition. 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 risk factors.
Your risk of sleep apnea increases beginning at age 40. The condition is more common in African-Americans, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders; and frequent smoking and alcohol use additionally contribute to greater risk. Your physical features also matter: 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 make the disorder more likely.
4. Dentists can screen your airways painlessly and non-invasively to determine whether a sleep study is needed.
A specially trained dentist can use the latest technology to perform an airway evaluation. A cone beam computer tomography (CBCT) unit helps the dentist create 3D images of your 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, your dentist will then make appropriate referrals to sleep study specialists, who can formally determine a diagnosis.
5. Dental treatment options exist for sleep apnea patients.
If you receive a diagnosis of sleep apnea, a dentist with special training can provide oral appliance therapy, in which you wear a custom-fitted dental device while you sleep. In many cases, this type of treatment can help you to avoid the need for surgery and/or a CPAP machine. Instead, your custom-fitted dental device works gradually to remodel your undersized airway through expanding your oral cavity and widening your dental arches. Over time, this can help to reduce your apneic episodes, and ultimately improve your sleep breathing and quality of life.
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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