Sleep Apnea: Serious but Treatable

March 20, 2013

The following post is provided courtesy of Kathy Taylor, of Taylor Made Home Care in Willoughby, Ohio.

Brian Hivak of Great Lakes Dental Arts recently spoke about sleep apnea at an Association of Specialists in Aging event in Mentor, Ohio.

Many at the event were educated on the dangers of sleep apnea–and even current treatment options. I wasn’t one of them! I thought I would pass along what I learned, because it might help others…

Sleep apnea is a chronic medical condition (or sleep disorder) that disrupts a person’s sleep. Those who don’t treat their sleep apnea might stop breathing hundreds of times in a night, which means the brain—and the rest of the body—may not get enough oxygen.

It only makes sense that the body would be affected by this.

Until I heard Dr. Hivak’s presentation, I hadn’t considered the seriousness of sleep apnea—beyond the frustration of being tired from not getting enough sleep.
Left untreated, sleep apnea often results in a host of other serious health problems; high blood pressure, heart failure, heart attack, irregular heartbeats, stroke. Hormone levels are affected—and that can lead to diabetes. The loss of sleep takes a mental toll, worsening ADHD, depression and bi-polar symptoms. Some studies even suggest an increased risk of cancers.

Everyday activities are also affected. There is increased risk of poor performance at work, motor vehicle accidents and children suffering from sleep apnea often perform poorly in school.

What I found alarming?

It’s possible that many people are being treated for diseases, but not addressing the actual cause of them. For example, a person with high blood pressure might take blood pressure medication, but remain unaware of their sleep apnea. If that person treated their sleep apnea, their blood pressure might be normal–or at least closer to normal.

What can dentists do?

Most of us have heard that doctors and sleep clinics can fit patients with CPAP machines so that they breathe easier while asleep. But I didn’t know that many dentists are also trained to look for symptoms of sleep apnea–and they can create mouth guards that position the lower jaw in a way that opens the airway.

The biggest issue in treating sleep apnea is compliance. Most sufferers find CPAP machines to be restrictive and uncomfortable. What I learned from Dr. Hivak was that there are other options in treating sleep apnea. Options that maybe aren’t commonly explored.

Those who have difficulty staying asleep, whose family members complain about their snoring, or who wake in the morning feeling tired and sluggish should seek help from their doctors, or a sleep specialist. But they can also consult with their dentist for recommendations for treating sleep apnea.

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