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Snoring and Sleep Apnea

By Lois Thomson

Disabilities

Dr. Robert Luther, Jr.

We're in a good position to make a difference," said Dr. Robert Luther, Jr. The "we" he is referring to is dentists, and the "difference" is with regard to the growing problem of sleep apnea and other sleep disorders.
Sleep apnea occurs when breathing actually stops for short periods of time while the patient is sleeping, potentially causing severe health problems. And you might be asking how a dentist could be involved with something like that.
The answer is that problems with sleep disorders arise when the airway is closed off, which could be caused by the structure in the person's mouth; or, if a patient is overweight, tissues could be swollen and block the airway. Dr. Luther believes dentists can help because they are familiar with their patients' mouths and might therefore be able to assist with identifying any trouble. "I think the role of the dentist is to help in recognizing the problem, making people aware of the possibility, then hopefully working with their physicians – because that's the correct conduit of acquiring treatment."
He emphasized that physicians are the appropriate specialists to order a sleep study for a patient in order to obtain a proper diagnosis. But once the diagnosis is made, the dentist may be able to have an impact in resolving the problem.
The recommended treatment for sleep disorders is the CPAP machine – which stands for continuous positive airway pressure – that keeps the airway open. However, the CPAP is similar to a mask that goes over the nose and is strapped to the head, with a hose that provides air pressure to keep the airway open. Dr. Luther said it's effective but also cumbersome and sometimes uncomfortable, and some people either may not be able to wear it, or may simply choose not to.
Here's where the dentists come in: they can design an intraoral appliance for a patient that Dr. Luther says is "like a second choice to a CPAP machine."
It is worn in the mouth – a clear splint that fits perfectly over the teeth, like a football mouth guard. Dr. Luther explained, "It works like upper and lower retainers that are connected with a rod or elastics that hold your jaw in an open and forward position. By positioning the tongue in a forward position, the airway is opened to allow proper ventilation of the lungs.
"That's the basic concept and it's pretty straightforward. And what we're trying to do is create a situation where the airway is open so the person can breathe, because when the quantity of air you need is shut off, there's a much higher instance of stroke or cardiovascular disease. In addition to the problems associated with apnea, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have discovered a link between snoring and high blood sugar levels and low levels of good cholesterol, both risk factors in heart disease."
Patients are fortunate that dentists like Dr. Luther may be able to offer a second option in this serious matter of life and breath.
For more information, call (412) 788-6300 or visit www.pittsburghlaserdentist.com.

SYMPTOMS OF SLEEP APNEA
Dr. Robert Luther, Jr. is concerned about people who may be suffering from sleep apnea but either aren't aware of it, or aren't aware of its dangers. If you snore and have any of the following additional symptoms, he urges you to consult your physician:
• Sleepiness
• Difficulty in concentrating
• Sore throat
• Restlessness while sleeping
• Gasping and choking at night
• High blood pressure
• Irregular heartbeat
He added that allergies, problems with being overweight or problems with alcohol, and an abnormal anatomy of the mouth can help to cause it. So if you are overweight and you realize that you have some of these symptoms, consult your physician as soon as possible.
"I think it's important to get the information out there so people can make proper judgments for themselves," he said; "because these (symptoms) aren't just a matter of inconvenience, it can be life or death."

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