Millions of people suffer from sleep apnea, a constriction of the airway from collapsing throat tissues and/or the tongue blocking the airway during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep-related breathing disorder that prevents airflow during sleep. OSA occurs when the tissue in the back of the throat collapses and blocks the airway, which keeps air from getting into the lungs. When your blood-oxygen level drops low enough, the body wakes up. It happens so quickly that the sleeper may not even remember the arousal. Waking up hundreds of times a night can make a person feel very tired the next day, not to mention disrupting the normal sleep patterns of those in your household.
- Central – the upper airway is open, but no oxygen is getting into the system.
- Obstructive – the lungs and the diaphragm are functioning normally, but no oxygen is entering the system because there is an obstruction in the upper airway.
- Mixed – this is a combination of central and obstructive sleep apnea.
The signs and symptoms of OSA include snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, gasping or choking during the night, non-refreshed sleep, fragmented sleep, clouded memory, irritability, personality changes and morning headaches.
Even though sleep apnea is treatable, it often goes unrecognized. Untreated sleep apnea can be dangerous and detrimental to your health. Oral appliances can be custom fit to open the airway during sleep, helping to eliminate sleep apnea. These devices are similar to orthodontic retainers or sports mouth guards and maintain an open, unobstructed airway. Oral appliances work in several ways, including:
- Repositioning the lower jaw, tongue, soft palate and uvula
- Stabilizing the lower jaw and tongue
- Increasing the muscle tone of the tongue