You may have heard about sleep apnea from a spouse, friend or co-worker. Sleep apnea is a life threatening condition that occurs when your breathing stops for more than 10 seconds at a time while sleeping. When breathing stops, your brain partially awakens to restore breathing. This may happen hundreds of times a night, although you may not be aware of it. In fact, researchers show that up to 90% of sufferers are undiagnosed.

When asked if our patients have trouble sleeping or if they snore, most patients state; “To tell you the truth, my spouse states that they are tired of my snoring.”

What if you were asked if someone tried to choke you as you slept? If you asked an Army Special Forces veteran patient this question, an immediate answer was, “Your eyes and throat would be gone.” His response is a perfect example of the fight-or-flight response when danger approaches. You either fight or flee. Either way, when danger approaches, adrenaline is released, putting the body on high alert.

I use the choking analogy because it brings home the seriousness of sleep apnea. Apnea simply means to quit breathing. No breathing, no oxygen, and without oxygen, death occurs within a few minutes. No oxygen not only starves the body’s tissue, it creates the fight-or-flight response, and this increases blood pressure. Increased blood pressure causes heart and stroke problems. Everything becomes a vicious cycle when a person cannot get enough oxygen. oxygen is the No. 1 drug the body needs.

Most patients also say they just couldn’t see themselves sleeping strapped with a mask and tethered to a machine. Some feel that if they had a sleep study, they would go home with a CPAP. Patients are unaware they could wear a dental appliance that is FDA-approved and is recommended treatment of mild to moderate sleep apnea. We show patients what they look like, and they are pleased.

Dentists, with special training in sleep dentistry, can make a sleep appliance that holds the jaw forward. When the jaw is forward, the tongue follows and opens up the airway, allowing the needed oxygen. It also allows much more room for the tongue. These devices work extremely well and, in many cases, can totally replace the CPAP.

Dentists cannot diagnose sleep apnea, but they can and should screen for it. I work with special trained sleep physicians and sleep clinics. If we make a patient a sleep device, it is imperative to prove that it is effective. The first step is to know if the patient is getting enough oxygen or not. We do this by sending a small wrist band pulse oximeter home with the patient after the appliance is delivered. The next day, I plug it into a computer to check the night’s oxygen level. If the percentages are not above 90, I adjust and check again.

Once the results look good, this information is sent to the sleep physician, and then another and hopefully last formal sleep study is preformed and read by the physician.

Please remember that oxygen is life’s No. 1 drug. Without it you die, and with too little oxygen, you are tired, run down and, quite frankly, sicker than you think you are. When the doctor or spouse talks about it, pay attention.

If you think you can order you anti-apnea products over the Internet without the help of the medical/dental profession, you are playing Russian roulette. If you need more information, please call my office.