Today is Sleep Apnea Awareness Day. Sleep apnea or snoring of any kind can be more than an inconvenience, and represent some underlying cause for concern. Outside of the overall importance of healthy sleep, confronting this condition early on can help our patients avoid more serious health problems.
To help raise awareness, Dr. Schor recently answered some of the most pressing questions surrounding this common and potentially debilitating condition.
Q: How often do you treat patients for obstructive sleep apnea at the practice?
Dr. Schor: Sleep apnea is very common. I treat several patients per month, and I expect to see an increasing number as many more individuals (estimated to be as high as one out of every fifteen) are being diagnosed with various sleep disorders. There are as many as 18 million Americans suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.
Q: What are some common symptoms of sleep apnea, those that drive patients to seek treatment?
Dr. Schor: The first complaint I often hear (especially from the spouse) is snoring. The snoring can be so disturbing to the patient’s husband or wife that they are forced to sleep in separate bedrooms. Although that’s the first sign that often brings them in for treatment, it is often a precursor accompanied by feelings of fatigue in spite of a full night’s sleep, problems with memory and concentration, as well as irritability.
Sleep apnea has been associated with other serious health conditions such as stroke, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, heart attack and arrhythmias, and even erectile dysfunction.
Q: How do you evaluate patients for signs of obstructive sleep apnea?
Dr. Schor: All of our patients fill out medical history forms which allow us to better facilitate our patients’ needs. If sleep apnea is a concern, Sleep Apnea Risk Evaluation Screening Test questionnaires better outline their health records with regard to one’s sleep habits, lifestyle and work issues, medical conditions, medications taken, daytime drowsiness, and the impact snoring has on one’s daily life.
It is important to note that only a licensed physician can diagnose a patient suffering from obstructive sleep apnea and we only see the patients on a referral basis.
A physical examination inside one’s mouth may indicate a decreased space at the back of one’s mouth where the throat begins, showing a narrowing in the airway, limiting air flow as one breathes. An analysis of one’s weight, blood pressure, pulse, and neck size will help with diagnosis, also. Oftentimes, the patients undergo an overnight sleep study to help determine the severity of the patient’s sleep apnea.
Q: Describe the treatment you offer. How is this different from the CPAP device?
Dr. Schor: The CPAP is an acronym for Continuous Positive Air Pressure which is a device that pumps air into the back of the throat and opens the airway. A tube and mask are attached to a pump that generates the air pressure during sleep. It takes most people some time to get used to the CPAP, and others, no matter what they try, cannot tolerate using CPAP.
I use oral appliance therapy which provides an alternative to CPAP and is custom fabricated to each patient. These devices work well, and a specially trained dentist can determine if one’s a good candidate. Several follow up visits will be recommended to ensure they continue to fit correctly as they will sometimes need to be adjusted to determine the optimum position for each patient.
Oral Appliance therapy is a comfortable and effective sleep apnea treatment for mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea. The appliance is custom fitted to the patient’s lower jaw, moving it slightly forward while tightening the soft tissue and muscles of the upper airway and preventing obstruction while they sleep.
Q: Why is a sleep apnea awareness month important to you, your practice, and your patients?
Dr. Schor: It is important to educate our patients on the importance of this ongoing chronic disorder that is host to an array of many other risk factors.
People with sleep apnea are:
- Four times more likely to have a heart attack
- Seven times more likely to have a motor vehicle accident
- At forty percent greater risk of having depression
- More likely to have sexual impotence
- More likely to develop diabetes.
Snoring and sleep apnea do not just affect one’s sleep; they have a significant impact on the overall quality of one’s life.
Q: How are you helping patients become more aware of the risks of sleep apnea?
Dr. Schor: We feel it is important to spread awareness about sleep apnea by encouraging our patients’ to take an active care in their many treatment options. While practices such as brushing and flossing are the usual major focus when it comes to dental care, the fundamental principle is that proper oral health leads to a complete, happy, whole patient. Snoring and sleep apnea exemplifies the link between the anatomy of breathing and dentistry. Experience, lifestyle, and simple decision making with regard to one’s oral care can lead to states of tranquility, and a better night’s sleep.