Snoring and sleep apnea are two of the most common sleep-related breathing disorders. The position of the jaws and related structures influences the development of sleep apnea, making the dentist a key professional in the diagnosis and treatment for selective cases. As a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, Dr. Westermann can work with patients to diagnose sleep apnea and related disorders and provide effective treatment to improve overall health and wellness.
Snoring by itself is generally not a health problem, however it can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Patients who suffer with OSA repeatedly stop breathing while they sleep. The prevalence of sleep apnea increases with age and it is estimated that as many as 50% of elderly men and women suffer from the disorder. OSA is a serious health problem that can have a significant impact on overall physical condition, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and even be life threatening.
About Obstructive Sleep Apnea
It is very important to understand that snoring is thunder (just noise) and sleep apnea is lightening (potentially very lethal).
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (lightening) affects more than 20 million Americans and can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, depression, muscle pain, excessive daytime sleepiness and other destructive problems.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a condition where the tissues of the throat and tongue completely block the airway causing brief periods of suffocation which can dangerously reduce the body’s oxygen levels. The brain alerts the muscles of the airway to open the blocked airway to prevent brain damage or death. This disrupts the quality of sleep. However, most people with obstructive sleep apnea are unaware that they are experiencing any of these cycles during sleep! They simply wake up tired and feel unrested.
Signs & Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Common signs of OSA include:
- Daytime sleepiness and the tendency to fall asleep while reading, watching television or driving
- Loud snoring
- Gasping while sleeping
- Dry mouth
- Morning headaches
- Problems with concentration, mood and mental clarity
Dr. Westermann will review your medical history and discuss some of the signs that could indicate a sleep breathing disorder. Diagnostic imaging such as x-rays may be done to examine the airway and look for signs of blockage. She will work with your general physician and may also recommend a sleep study to properly diagnose your sleep disorder and plan effective treatment.
Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
The oral appliance is actually the first line of treatment recommended by the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine for treatment of mild to moderate sleep apnea.
Dr. Westermann uses oral appliance therapy to treat sleep apnea and provide relief from symptoms that affect physical health and daily life. An alternative to CPAP treatment, oral appliances offer several key benefits that improve patient compliance:
- Custom fit and comfortable to wear
- Allows patient to speak and eat
- Easy to take with you when traveling
Dr. Westermann uses Somnodent® oral appliances to help patients get a healthy night’s sleep and reduce the risks associated with OSA.
Oral Appliance Therapy: How Does It Work?
Snoring and sleep apnea appliances work similarly in that they slightly advance the lower jaw and tongue which helps keep the airway open while you sleep. If you’ve ever learned CPR you were taught to pull the jaw forward to open the airway. Try this – breathe normally and then push your jaw out or forward and feel the difference in air resistance! It’s easier to breathe with the tongue and jaw forward. Now, pull your jaw backwards and feel the increased air resistance. This is what happens when you fall asleep at night. Your muscles relax and your jaw and tongue fall back into your throat blocking your airway.
Oral appliances are small retainer type devices that, when properly fit adjusted and monitored by a dentist with advanced training, are well tolerated by patients.