SLEEP APNEA AFFECTS over 18 million adults in the United States alone, as well as one of every five children who habitually snore. Dental professionals are often the first ones to notice the signs of this disorder, because it can be very harmful to oral health.
How Does Sleep Apnea Work?
Sleep apnea can work in different ways, depending on the cause. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to signal the respiratory muscles to keep breathing during sleep. Much more common is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is caused by the airway becoming physically blocked. Typically, the tongue collapses against the soft palate, which in turn collapses against the throat, sealing off the airway. Complex sleep apnea combines OSA and central sleep apnea.
Whatever the cause of the interrupted breathing, the outcome is the same. Not breathing sets off all the brain’s alarm bells, waking the person up to take a breath. It happens so quickly that most people with sleep apnea never remember waking up, even if they’re waking up hundreds of times in a single night. They still feel the effects of not getting a full night’s sleep, however, through symptoms like exhaustion, morning headaches, and difficulty concentrating.