Northern Virginia, Including Arlington, Tysons Corner, Alexandria, Fairfax, And McLean, Virginia Dentist
What is Sleep Apnea?
According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 12 million Americans experience a condition called sleep apnea. The word “apnea” is Greek for “without breath.” Sleep apnea occurs when a person takes shallow breaths or even has breaks during breathing patterns while sleeping. Sleep apnea can be classified as obstructive sleep apnea or central sleep apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs because your airway may be blocked by an abnormality that you were born with like excessive tissue in the back of the tongue, throat, or nose.
Central Sleep Apnea
Central sleep apnea can occur when your brain doesn’t send the proper signals to the muscles responsible for breathing.
For true sleep apnea, the condition would disrupt your sleep three or more nights a week on a regular basis. At Galleria Dental Aesthetics, our experienced team of cosmetic dentists is trained to provide treatment for sleep apnea and relieve some of the symptoms associated with this common condition.
WHAT CAUSES OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNEA?
Sleep apnea occurs when the throat airways become blocked or obstructed. This can happen for a variety of reasons:
- The tongue and throat muscles become over-relaxed during sleep
- The tonsils and tongue are enlarged
- The size of the airway is too small
- There is excess fat tissue in the windpipe causing a more narrow opening, often a side effect of being overweight
SLEEP APNEA SYMPTOMS
Because the breaks in breathing occur while the patient is asleep, the people who have this condition are very often unaware that sleep apnea is occurring. It is most often the spouse or other members of the household who identify the symptoms, which can include:
- Loud snoring
- Choking or gasping sounds during sleep
- Chronic pauses in breathing patterns that last for a few seconds up to minutes in length
There are also secondary symptoms that can occur during waking hours that are directly related to the sleep interruptions the patient is experiencing, such as:
- Extreme fatigue
- Mood swings
- Concentration problems
- Dry mouth
Children with sleep apnea may also exhibit aggressive or hyperactive behavior or difficulty in school. Bedwetting is also common.
Common causes of Sleep Apnea
There are many causes that can lead to sleep apnea in patients. Some of these causes include:
- Having a small airways; nose, mouth or throat
- Having an enlarged uvula
- Having a soft palate
- Gender, as men are twice as likely to suffer from sleep apnea
- Having suffered from a stroke or brain tumor
- Being overweight
- Alcohol consumption
- Having a history of sleep apnea in the family
- Being older than 65
- Having a heart condition
Sleep apnea occurs more often in men; however women are not exempt, especially after menopause. As we age, the risk of sleep apnea increases, and it is estimated that 1 out of 10 people age 65 or older has this condition.
If the fat content in your body is too high, this can cause fat deposits in the airway that may obstruct breathing. You may also have been born with a thick neck circumference which can cause a narrowing in the throat, or may simply have been born with a narrow airway.
Sleep apnea also affects significantly more people after the age of 60. Smoking may increase the inflammation around the airway which can cause sleep apnea, and the use of alcohol, tranquilizers, or sedatives can relax the muscles in your throat, thereby causing breathing problems.
Dangers of Untreated Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is more than just annoying; it can be dangerous. When air is not allowed to flow into and out of your lungs because of blockage, your blood oxygen level will drop. As this level drops, the brain is activated to interrupt your sleeping pattern and tighten the muscles, which opens the airways.
This can occur frequently throughout the night. In fact, some patients have sleep apnea gasps up to 30 times an hour. Not surprisingly, this sleep interruption releases stress hormones and can lead to a whole host of physical problems, including extreme fatigue, heart attack, stroke, heart failure, high blood pressure and more.
Sleep Apnea Patient Testimonial
“I was always shy when it came to my smile. My teeth were uneven and a little bit discolored from medication I had to take as a kid. I talked to Dr. Oh about what he could do for me. He was wonderful – so professional and so patient. He took me through every step of the process and even used a computer to show me what my smile would look like when he was done. Now I have a gorgeous smile that I am proud to share with everyone. I look at old photographs of myself covering my mouth of not even smiling – all that’s changed forever now thanks to Dr. Oh. I’d recommend him to anyone!” – Sarah
How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?
Our dentists will diagnose sleep apnea by first evaluating your symptoms during a thorough evaluation. Personal and family medical history will also be taken into consideration when determining if an overnight sleep study is needed. During a sleep study, you will sleep with painless sensors attached to several areas of your face and limbs to record:
- Blood oxygen levels
- Breathing patterns
- Heart rate
- Brain activity
- Muscle activity
- Airflow into and out of the lungs
Once sleep apnea has been diagnosed, the patient can begin exploring different sleep apnea treatment options.
Schedule a Consultation
There are different types of sleep apnea from which patients can suffer, and it can often be quite a serious condition. It is important to seek diagnosis as soon as possible in order to begin effective treatment procedures and prevent the condition from becoming more serious.
If you or a loved one is suffering from sleep apnea in Alexandria, please contact Galleria Dental Aesthetics at 703.448.1020 to schedule a consultation to determine if our treatments can provide you and other members of your household relief.