A good night’s sleep is something to be treasured. The rested feeling in the morning, lasting energy throughout the day, and clarity of mind are all benefits felt after a night of uninterrupted sleep. However, this is often elusive for those suffering with chronic sleep apnea.
And the disease affects over eight million men and over four million women in the US alone. Apnea occurs when the airway is obstructed, causing people to stop breathing while sleeping. This results in oxygen levels in the blood falling to dangerous levels causing people to wake, restarting their breathing and elevating their levels again. This cycle repeats all night with a typical sufferer experiencing 100’s of arousals during the night that they aren’t even aware of. These disruptions limit the amount of REM sleep a person gets, significantly impacting their health. Sleep apnea has been proven to significantly increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and elevate blood pressure.
Two of the major markers of the disease are loud snoring and daytime fatigue and sleeping, both of which can be troubling for an entire family. The first step toward treatment of the problem would be an assessment by your family doctor, or a dentist trained in sleep medicine, who will likely refer you to a sleep specialist. The sleep specialist will then determine if a lab or home based sleep study is more appropriate for your situation.
If the condition is severe enough, doctors most commonly suggest PAP (Positive Air Pressure), a method utilizing a machine worn at night pressurizing the airway, opening it and allowing easier breathing. “PAP is the most common initial treatment and generally most successful if patients can tolerate it. And therein lies the problem,” explains Dr. Stephen Russell. “Compliance with the therapy, using the machine consistently and successfully, is typically just over 50-60%. Whether the pressure is too high, the mask doesn’t fit, it’s uncomfortable or bothers their bed partner, we know that if you can’t follow the protocol, it won’t alleviate the apnea symptoms.”
Russell emphasizes that PAP is often successful and has a valuable place in the treatment of the disease. But for those who have tried, and failed, there are other options, including surgery and weight loss.
However, these options are not one-size-fits-all and Dr. Russell offers another choice – Oral Appliance Therapy. Dr. Russell has had extensive training in the area of sleep apnea treatment with the appliances and shares that they are “quite successful for mild to moderate apnea and can be successful for severe cases when other treatments fail.”
So, what is an oral appliance? Think of the retainer you had in middle school, or possibly the night guard you might wear to prevent grinding of the teeth. An oral appliance is similar in that it’s a fitted, removable device created by a dentist to alleviate a specific issue. In the case of Sleep Apnea, the device is typically a Mandibular Advancement Device. “Basically,” shares Dr. Russell, “it’s a removable appliance that moves the lower jaw and tongue forward, physically opening the airway. The movement of the jaw forward stretches and tones the muscles and soft tissues of the upper airway, making them more rigid as well as more open.”
While wearing the appliance during sleep, the muscles in the patient’s airways are, in a sense, kept “flexed” and the airway remains taut and open, allowing easy breathing and eliminating the closed airway issues of apnea.
Research clearly indicates that oral appliance therapy is a viable and real option for those suffering from sleep apnea and hopes to educate people about their choices when treating this issue. With education and prevention in mind, Russell Family Dentistry screens every patient in their office for sleep related breathing disorders, referring patients who may have the disease to a sleep specialist for diagnosis.
One tool they use is the STOP-Bang Questionnaire. The survey is designed to help determine if you have enough risk factors to warrant further assessment for Sleep Apnea. Take the survey yourself below and if your score is high, a call to Dr. Russell may be the next “to-do” on your list.
Is it possible that you have Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)? Please answer the following questions below to determine if you might be at risk.
Snoring? Do you Snore Loudly (louder than talking or loud enough to be heard through closed doors)? Tired ? Do you often feel Tired, Fatigued, or Sleepy during the daytime?
Observed? Has anyone observed you stop breathing during your sleep?
Pressure ? Do you have or are being treated for High Blood Pressure?
Body Mass Index more than 35?
Age older than 50?
Neck size? Does your neck measure more than 16 inches / 40 cm around (measure at Adam’s Apple)?
Gender = Male?
Low risk of OSA: Yes to 0-2 questions
Intermediate risk of OSA: Yes to 3-4 questions
High risk of OSA: Yes to 5-8 questions
“We don’t diagnose,” shares Dr. Russell. “We use tools, expertise and training to help patients assess their risk. Then, we work with local sleep specialist doctors to help our patients find help and address the very real and serious implications of living with sleep apnea.”
6344 Littlerock Rd SW
Olympia, WA 98512