Ask The Sleep Dentist: What is Sleep Apnea?

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea occurs when your breathing is disrupted during sleep. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a chronic condition where the jaw and soft tissue blocks the airway.  Breathing stops for a period of time until the person wakes up just enough to move the muscles and breathe again. This may happen every other minute without a person remembering in the morning.  Among other serious medical effects, these mini-arousals disrupt the sleep cycle so that the deep and reparative stages are not reached. You may think you’re allowing plenty of time for sleep but remember the quality of sleep matters just as much, if not more. You may not be getting the type of sleep you need to be healthy and refreshed.  Medical conditions such as high blood pressure, acid reflux, diabetes, stroke, heart attack, and depression may be related.

How common is sleep apnea? 

Although the condition is largely underdiagnosed, an estimated 30 million adults in the U.S. have obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is also prevalent in children.

What causes sleep apnea?

Excess tissue in the back of the throat, misaligned or narrow jaw, large neck, or excess body weight can all block the airway and contribute to obstructive sleep apnea.

Is it more common in women or men? Does it present itself differently in men/women?

Men are twice as likely to have OSA, although women are less likely to be diagnosed even when they have OSA. This is perhaps more serious in women since they may be more likely to have a risk of heart problems associated with the condition. Although presentation is largely the same, women are more likely to report insomnia and daytime sleepiness.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea:

SNORING- Snoring can be annoying, even funny, but it may be a sign of sleep apnea. The noise from snoring comes from the vibration of tissue in the back of the throat. This indicates a narrowing airway that may at times close completely. Choking and gasping may be witnessed during snoring. The person is literally choking on the blocked airway and gasping for breath.

SLEEPINESS- Sleepiness makes sense if you’re waking up every other minute and never getting to the deep reparative stages of sleep. If you tend to fall asleep while sitting quietly watching TV or in the passenger seat of a car, it’s possible that you’re not getting the quality of sleep you need. That said, not everyone with sleep apnea realizes they’re sleepy.

FOOD CRAVINGS- Untreated sleep apnea may actually affect hormones that control food cravings and full signal, making it difficult to lose weight. Unfortunately this is a viscous cycle since excess weight can worsen sleep apnea.

MEDICAL CONDITIONS- Diabetes, high blood pressure, reflux, depression, impotence, and other medical conditions may be related to sleep apnea and can be an indication that one’s sleep should be investigated.

ADD- In children, sleep apnea may present as ADD/ADHD, bed-wetting, or poor performance in school. In fact, an estimated 50% of ADD diagnoses may actually be sleep related since the symptoms are so similar.

How Sleep Apnea is Treated:

If sleep apnea is suspected, it is important to get a sleep study, which can be done in a lab or in your own home.  CPAP, a machine with a mask that keeps the airway open with a column of pressurized air, may be recommended.  If apnea is mild to moderate, or a CPAP cannot be tolerated, treatment can be as simple as a special night guard designed by a sleep-trained dentist. This night guard gently pushes the lower jaw forward to hold the airway open. In children, a specially trained dentist can make a soft night “pillow” that retrains the tongue and guides the growth of jaws into a proper position so they may actually grow out of the sleep apnea altogether.

About Dr. Sabrina Magid-Katz, D.M.D.

Dr. Sabrina Magid-Katz, D.M.D., lectures to dental societies about screening for Sleep Apnea and is a member of The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. She practices general dentistry at Advanced Dentistry of Westchester in Harrison, NY where she also screens for and treats Obstructive Sleep Apnea. For more information visit www.adofw.com.

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  • Advanced Dentistry of Westchester
  • Kenneth S. Magid, DDS, FICD
  • Sabrina Magid-Katz, DMD

  • 163 Halstead Ave. • Harrison, NY 10528
  • (914) 835-0542
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