Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening sleep disorder characterized by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. The breathing pauses can last anywhere from several seconds to minutes, and happen as often as 30 times or more per hour. Ongoing disrupted breathing causes an imbalance between the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the bloodstream, as not enough carbon dioxide is leaving the body and not enough oxygen is entering the body.
It is very important to seek medical attention if sleep apnea is suspected. A sufferer can completely stop numerous times per hour, and this can quickly turn into a deadly situation. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissue lying at the back of the patient’s throat collapses into the airway. The tongue then falls towards the back of the throat which tightens the blockage and prevents oxygen from entering the lungs.
The problem worsens when the chest region, diaphragm, and abdomen fight for air. The efforts they make to obtain vital oxygen only cause a further tightening of the blockage. The patient must arouse from deep sleep to tense the tongue and remove the soft tissue from the airway.
Because sleep apnea causes carbon dioxide levels to skyrocket in the blood and oxygen levels to decrease, the heart has to pump harder and faster to compensate for the lack of oxygen. Sleep apnea has been linked to a series of serious heart-related conditions and should be investigated by the dentist at the earliest opportunity.
Our dentists are trained to identify the symptoms of sleep apnea. If your dentist suspects that you suffer from this potentially dangerous condition, you’ll be referred to a sleep doctor for a medical diagnosis. Then, we’ll work with your physician to prescribe appropriate, non-surgical treatment.
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