What are the different types of sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea can be divided into three types:
• obstructive sleep apnea
• central sleep apnea
• mixed sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common form, involves blockage of air flow by tissues that collapse in the throat. Depending on the patient, episodes of apnea may occur primarily in deep stages or REM stages of sleep.
Central sleep apnea results from disruption of signals from the part of the brain that controls breathing.
Mixed sleep apnea involves a combination of central and obstructive types.
In all three types of sleep apnea, diagnosis is based on the presence of at least five episodes of apnea per hour during sleep. Episodes of sleep apnea are defined by cessation of breathing that lasts at least 10 seconds and results in lower oxygen levels in the body. Although apnea episodes can cause patients to fully awaken, they may result in only partial awakening, which still prevents restorative sleep and leaves patients exhausted the following day.
Does sleep apnea raise risks of health problems?
Left untreated, sleep apnea increases risks of several health problems, including:
• heart attack
• sudden cardiac death
• high blood pressure
What can treatment do for patients?
Sleep apnea patients who get treatment experience major improvements in their sleep quality and oxygenation. These changes can benefit patients in terms of:
• quality of life
• job performance
Can sleep apnea be improved through lifestyle changes and other alternative treatments?
Mild sleep apnea may respond to lifestyle changes and other alternatives. For example, sleeping on the left side or upright may result in fewer apnea episodes. Patients who snore may benefit from the use of adhesive nasal strips that keep the nasal passages open. If the patient is overweight, they may experience reductions in sleep apnea after losing weight. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol late in the day can also reduce sleep apnea. Finally, some patients with obstructive sleep apnea have lessened their symptoms by practicing the didgeridoo, a musical instrument that tightens tissues in the airway.
What dental and orthodontic options can be used to treat sleep apnea?
Several dental and orthodontic devices and procedures can be effective for obstructive sleep apnea. Examples of these options are:
• Rapid Maxillary Expansion: Designed for patients with a narrow upper jaw, this procedure entails attaching a temporary device to the upper teeth and tightening it over several weeks to make breathing easier.
• Mandibular Advancement Device: Similar in appearance to mouth guards used by athletes, this device pushes the lower jaw down and out so that the air passage remains open during sleep.
• Sleep Splints: These keep the tongue from collapsing backwards and blocking the airway.
• Functional Magnetic System: This uses two magnets placed at opposite sides of the jaws to ensure that the airway stays open